Citizens rally to keep child services nearby

Posted: July 26, 2013

The Winchester Star

Cassie Purtlebaugh of Frederick County leads a meeting of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Save Our Services Committee Thursday at the Child Development Clinic on Baker Street in Winchester. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
Members of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Save Our Services Committee, along with state and Child Development Clinic officials, meet Thursday at the Child Development Clinic on Baker Street in Winchester in hopes of keeping services in the Winchester area instead of clients having to travel to Harrisonburg. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
Kevin Sellner of Manassas looks over a vacuum tube from a science classroom Thursday morning during an auction of fixtures and furnishings from the former Clarke County High School. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — There is still hope among a group of concerned citizens that local services benefiting children will remain in or near the community.

The Lord Fairfax Health District’s Child Development Clinic (CDC) at 10 Baker St. is no longer taking clients and is expected soon to move its services to James Madison University in Harrisonburg.

The move is part of a statewide plan to contract out the services of all Child Development Clinics currently operated independently or by a local health department as a way to streamline operations and save money.

The local clinic evaluated individuals from early childhood to age 21 who were suspected of having a developmental disability or delay such as anxiety, a mood disorder, hyperactivity disorder or autism.

The clinic’s team provided the child’s family with recommendations and referrals to local providers who could offer her or him needed treatment.

Now, a group led by 42-year-old Boyce resident Jack Starry, who has a child with Asperger’s syndrome, has forced talks among state and local officials about potentially opening up a satellite office in the area.

Starry says the distance and numerous trips to Harrisonburg will be too much of a hardship on parents and their children, with some parents potentially unable to make the commute due to work or finances.

“I can’t stress enough,” Starry said. “It’s such an important service. It really, really does drastically change the lives of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

A potential location for a satellite office is at Northwestern Community Services (NWCS) in Front Royal. NWCS serves those with behavioral, developmental and intellectual disabilities in Winchester and Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren counties.

In order to serve the CDC’s patients, NWCS has entered into an agreement with Skyline Community Action Partnership’s Head Start Program to provide classroom-based child observations and reporting services to identify mental health concerns — services previously performed by the local CDC.

NWCS would offer the service at less than 50 percent of the customary cost, with the balance considered an in-kind match, according to an email from officials.

Currently, NWCS is in talks about the donation of office space at its outpatient clinic in Front Royal, but the space still needs to be deemed appropriate for the evaluations. No timeline is available on the decision.

It is unknown how many days a week the satellite office would be open (Starry is hoping three days); whether it would be run by the local staff from the CDC, local private practitioners or JMU staff; and what services, in full, it would provide.

“I imagine that question could not be answered until a model for retaining the services is approved,” said Mark Gleason, chief operating officer at NWCS, in a Wednesday email. “There is probably a great deal of negotiation that would have to occur in the interim.”

Charlie Devine, health director at Lord Fairfax Health District, said he believes JMU and the Virginia Health Department in Richmond are in talks about the potential for a satellite office in the area.

“What it will lead to and when, I really don’t know,” he said.

So far, Starry and 12 other concerned citizens and parents have met two or three times to discuss what they can do to make the satellite office a reality.

Starry is the chairman of Northern Shenandoah Valley Save Our Services, which was created last week in response to the closing. He said he’s also gotten support from area agencies including the Frederick County Department of Social Services and Healthy Families.

The next step is talking to JMU and state health officials to find answers on grant funding and potential space.

“We’ve gotten quite a bit accomplished,” Starry said. “Other CDCs have not had this amount of outcry.”

— Contact Rebecca Layne at rlayne@winchesterstar.com