By Kim Barto Meeks
A new group home for adults with developmental disabilities will help Piedmont Community Services expand its capacity in Martinsville as state facilities close.
PCS received a $1.6-million state grant in 2018 to purchase land and build two new housing facilities, each with four beds. Officials held a ribbon-cutting and tours Tuesday for the first home, located on Independence Drive. The second is being constructed and will be finished by January or February 2020.
The new housing is needed as Virginia moves away from institutions and towards “person-centered and community-oriented care,” officials said. PCS Executive Director Greg Preston estimated there are about 250 people on a waiting list for various services in the agency’s service area, which includes Martinsville as well as Henry, Patrick, and Franklin counties. Not all of these require residential services, however.
In the past, Preston said, there were five regional training centers serving developmentally disabled adults throughout the state. Central Virginia, located in Lynchburg, formerly housed 3,000 clients in an institutional setting. Now, as it is in the process of closing, there are 43 individuals remaining, and clients “are encouraged to come back to their communities,” Preston said. As a result, community services boards such as Piedmont are being asked to expand their capacity.
The “person-centered” approach gives people with disabilities more freedom of choice and the chance to live “like you or I would want to live,” said Shannon Clark, PCS Community Support Director.
In a centralized facility, for example, clients would be limited to using doctors on the facility’s campus. “They should be able to access any doctor they wish and other services out in the community, just like anyone else,” Clark said. “That’s what they deserve.”
The other advantage of living in a local group home is that “they will be closer to their loved ones and able to connect with them in a way they otherwise couldn’t in Lynchburg,” she said.
Clients will move into the new home as early as next week, officials said. Services they receive depend on the person’s needs, “their capabilities and what they choose to do,” Preston said. This may include a job or participating in a day program, for example. The home also provides some structured daytime activities.
Clark said they encourage people with disabilities and their families to plan ahead and work with agencies such as PCS “so we can match them with services they may qualify for.” Needs are increasing as the population ages, including clients and their caretakers, she said.
“Part of our mission is simply to help,” Preston said.
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, PCS staff and City Manager Leon Towarnicki spoke about the project. Towarnicki noted that 15 years ago, Independence Drive dead-ended before reaching the PCS property, which backs up to the city’s shop. He also praised Piedmont for “proving to be an outstanding partner in the city and meeting a wide array of needs.”
PCS Operations Director Kippy Cassell described the process of searching for a suitable location for the project. When he first saw the property, he admitted he was skeptical, as the land was covered in trees and included an embankment. However, the architect said “We can build here,” he said. A groundbreaking was held in December 2018, and Daniel Builders out of Danville completed the construction “on time and on schedule,” he said.
Piedmont board members, staff, officials from the city, representatives from the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce, and relatives of the home’s clients gathered to cut a symbolic red ribbon before touring the new facility.