Virginia Medicaid waiver wait list continues to grow

Peggy Pape and her autistic son, Jeff, need a Medicaid waiver, but they're on the wait list. (Photo: Whitney Wild/NewsChannel8)

For Peggy Pape, the mother of an autistic son, her only escape comes at night.

Pape is one of thousands who will be affected by a Department of Justice settlement that demanded that Virginia overhaul its mental health system. Over the next decade, the Old Dominion plans to close four state-run housing facilities, extend community-based services and issue more than 4,000 Medicaid waivers.

But for some families, like Pape's, the changes are too little, too late.

Her son, Jeff, has autism, epilepsy and ADHD. He'll never live alone and needs a Medicaid waiver for group housing and day care. At least 2,000 of those Medicaid waivers are for wait listed families, but Pape says she may not be able to to wait.

"I'm 66," she says. "I can't wait until I'm 76."

Unfortunately, the Fairfax County Community Services Board says that stories like Peggy's aren't unique. She's up against 700 other applicants for a waiver. Alan Wooten, the program manager for the county's Intellectual Disability Services, says demand is growing and the overhaul will not cover all of it.

"Over that ten year time, we can expect to see only 270 slots," Wooten said. "when you look at the fact that our wait list is 736 families, that needs to be significantly embellished."

For now, all Pape can do is cross her fingers and force a smile.

"I have to force myself because of him," she said.