Keep SEVTC residents working

Published 10:21 pm Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The General Assembly decision has been made regarding the Southeastern Virginia Training Center. Ostensibly, it will be rebuilt, downsizing it to a 75-bed facility. This means that approximately 100 people from the institution will move out into the community.

Chesapeake Service Systems, a nonprofit provider of work to people with severe disabilities, has seen firsthand that work is one of the most important aspects of their lives.

Most people are shocked to learn that 56 people from SEVTC are on the CSS payroll. Another 30 have worked on projects CSS has sent over to SEVTC, and 124 people total have engaged in work.

Email newsletter signup

We have pages of words from these individuals expressing their desire to work. One person said, “I want to work, because when I work I exist.” Another said, “I want to work, because when I work, I am a real person.” Wow!

We have found that even the most severely impaired (with the exception of those who are medically fragile) have found great joy from working. In addition, as a consequence of working, we have seen developmental strides, almost defying belief, that were dormant for decades. For example, the mother of one person we serve said in tears, “I want to thank you; my daughter is 38 years old, and for the first time in her life she spoke, because she is working in your laundry.”

The strides that have been achieved have taught us that each individual with a developmental disability has a functioning level and developmental status that are relative to the environments that they are in. The most profound way to increase health and development for these vulnerable individuals is not with a drug, but through a working environment where they feel valued.

Work is their overwhelming choice. Driven by the clients at SEVTC, CSS and SEVTC staff helped the clients form their own advocacy group called PRIDE (People Residing in Institutions Desiring Employment). When clients from SEVTC say that working makes them feel like a “real person,” these are words we must take seriously.

My concern in the transition is that all I have heard is concern over where these individuals are going to live. This is, of course, critical, but what they do during their days is equally critical to health and well being.

A noted physician, Peter Davidson, said, “Doing something meaningful during the day is one of the most important aspects of being human. People need a reason to get up in the morning.”

When the individuals come out of SEVTC, if no attention and priority are given to preserving the dignity and self-worth they have found in their work, the results will be catastrophic.

I request decision-making bodies dealing with the SEVTC exodus to see if residents are engaged in work and that careful attention is given so they do not lose their jobs. Currently, SEVTC staff take their clients to CSS work locations.

Since people exiting SEVTC will have Medicaid waivers, the resources will be there to help them realize their dreams in an increased capacity. Any transitions made that do not consider their jobs will be a transition replete with injustice.

Noted theologian William Shedd said, “A ship is safe in the harbor, but that is not what ships were made for.”

Quality of life can only happen if we are cognizant of patients’ holistic needs.