Need Help? Get in Line

Need Help? Get in Line

While demand for mental health facilities outpaces supply, a proposed group home awaits an access easement.

For an adult with severe mental illness in Loudoun County, help isn't around the corner — it's more like five years away. While the Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services does what it can to assist those who suffer from mental illness, the demand still far outstrips the supply of treatment facilities in the county.

"It's pretty huge," said Larry Methany, mental health residential program manager for the department. Adults in Loudoun County who require 24-hour care end up living in hospitals or with relatives.

"There are some real care issues," Methany said. "It's not really a normalizing environment."

Methany and his staff treat 88 patients in Loudoun, providing both 24-hour and partial day care. Most of their patients functioned normally in the work force before mental illness struck in early adulthood.

"They learn to regain the skills they had prior to being mentally sick," Methany said.

BUT FOR MANY other mentally ill adults, the long wait for treatment stymies recovery. And a bundle of red tape surrounding a proposed group home at Mirror Ridge isn't helping.

The proposed site, located on a parcel of land proffered to the county, sits near the intersection of Potomac View and Cottage Road not far from the Northern Virginia Community College's Loudoun campus. The proposed project is a 10-bedroom duplex, half for round-the-clock care and half for day care. If the home were not built, the wait time for care from the department would increase to six years.

According to Methany, the department has funds aligned and construction plans ready to go for the home. The only thing standing in its way is access to the site — a 150-foot strip along an existing private road on its western boundary.

The county offered $15,000 to the property owner for an access easement.

"It seemed reasonable," said Supervisor Stephen Snow (R-Dulles).

The property owner countered with a price of $50,000 plus 25 percent of the cost of maintenance.

"It was a bit too high of a request," Snow said.

TWO OTHER POSSIBILITIES for access were explored: constructing a new entrance directly off Cottage Road, which the state Department of Transportation vetoed for lack of site distance requirements; and a different access site via a Mirror Ridge Homeowners Association-owned parking lot. Citing traffic concerns, the Mirror Ridge Homeowners Association declined the county's request for an access easement. An agent for Mirror Ridge did not return calls by press time.

There's one more option: the county could flex its muscles and obtain the access via eminent domain, according to Assistant County Attorney John F. Carlton. The process could take a year or more.

"We prefer to work with the owners," Snow said. He added that the county is giving the property owners one last chance to negotiate. And if that fails? "Let the lawyers handle it," he said.

Once access is determined, construction on the home will take approximately a year.

The county's mental health agency has been successful with the patients it takes on, said Methany; 98 percent of patients who enter the program never return to a psychiatric hospital. The 10 additional patients who would benefit from a group home at Mirror Ridge could become contributing members of society.

"We know that with the right support, people can regain function," Methany said.