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Virginia
Virginia's second case of coronavirus announced in city of Fairfax

FAIRFAX — Virginia’s second presumptive positive case of the new coronavirus was announced Sunday morning by the Virginia Department of Health.

The second patient, a Fairfax City resident in his 80s, was hospitalized on Thursday after beginning to experience respiratory symptoms on Feb. 28, according to the VDH. Health officials said the patient had recently traveled on a Nile River cruise on which other passengers tested positive for the virus in Egypt. The Pentagon on Saturday evening confirmed a Marine stationed at Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County was Virginia’s first case of the virus, officially known as COVID-19.

Fairfax County epidemiologist Benjamin Schwartz said during a Sunday afternoon news conference that the two cases were unrelated and there are no new recommendations, only that residents continue practices such as regular handwashing and covering coughs.

“It’s important to emphasize the exposures occurred overseas, there were very limited exposures between the time the individual became ill and when he went to the hospital, and therefore we don’t believe there’s substantial risk in the community and we are not recommending any events be canceled or any venues be shut down,” Schwartz said.

A presumptive positive case means that a public health laboratory has received a positive test result, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has yet to confirm it.

State Health Commissioner Norman Oliver said the VDH is working with the CDC, Fairfax Health District, Prince William County Health District and the Department of Defense to help identify people who had contact with the two who tested positive, but public risk remains low.

“VDH successfully responded to the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009 to 2010, and that work serves as a very solid foundation for the work we’re doing in response to COVID-19,” Oliver said.

As of Sunday afternoon, the CDC had tested 1,583 people for the coronavirus since January. More than 500 infections have been confirmed within the U.S., including in New York, Washington state and California, and 21 people have died nationally.

Dr. Denise Toney, director of the Department of General Services’ Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services, said the state has two test kits and more have been ordered already with an expected arrival of sometime next week.

She said each kit can test approximately 150 to 200 people, depending on the number of specimen types needed or repeat tests required. She said the VDH has reached out to university hospitals and other private laboratories to discuss their testing capacity as well and is confident they will be able to run as many tests as needed.

“Currently, we have adequate capacity to test all the specimens of all the patients that we’re currently receiving,” Toney said. “We anticipate the access to testing to continue to increase each day.”

The Marine, who has not been identified, was being treated for the virus at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, a military treatment facility run by the Department of Defense.

“We are working closely with federal, military and local partners to respond to a COVID-19 case at Ft. Belvoir,” Gov. Ralph Northam said in a tweet Saturday evening. “The risk to Virginians remains low, but please continue to stay aware and take basic health precautions.”

State epidemiologist Lilian Peake said Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., performed the tests for the Fort Belvoir patient, and the Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services in Richmond tested a sample from the Fairfax City patient.

She said at this point there were no signs of the virus spreading in Virginia and as of Sunday morning 44 Virginians had been tested, with 36 being negative, two positive and six awaiting results.

The first District of Columbia case, announced Saturday, was reported on Sunday to be the rector at Christ Church Georgetown, a prominent Episcopal institution. The Rev. Timothy Cole was hospitalized and in stable condition, according to a statement from the Rev. Crystal Hardin, the assistant rector.

“Out of an abundance of caution, Christ Church has canceled all activities including church services until further notice. We recommend that concerned community members contact their health care providers,” the statement said.

Advice to the public continues to vary. The CDC urged older adults and people with severe medical conditions to “stay home as much as possible” and avoid crowds.

A federal official told The Associated Press that the White House had overruled health officials who wanted to recommend that elderly and sick Americans not fly on commercial airlines. A spokesman for Vice President Mike Pence denied that.

People across Virginia have begun taking precautions as the virus has marched across the country, with cases also appearing in Tennessee, Maryland and North Carolina in recent days.

McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Richmond plans to begin screening all guests and employees starting Monday and is canceling its valet services to limit the chance of transmission, according to its website.

Veterans are urged to arrive at appointments an hour early, and any experiencing flulike symptoms are asked to call the medical center before arriving.

Pulaski County, southwest of Radford, is closing its schools on Friday to allow teachers to develop lesson plans in case schools need to close because of the coronavirus. The school division is also working to thoroughly clean all buildings.

A Catholic church in Chesterfield County has suspended the tradition of taking wine from a communal chalice during Communion and drained the holy water basin in which churchgoers dip their fingers before Mass.

Some grocery stores around the Richmond region were limiting the amount of hand sanitizer, soap and cleaning supplies that customers could buy. Employees at others reported being sold out.

On Wednesday, University of Richmond officials said they’re canceling school-sponsored spring break trips. Virginia Commonwealth University canceled all study-abroad trips to countries that pose risk according to CDC guidelines.

Richmond International Airport has stepped up its cleaning regimen and added more hand sanitizer in anticipation of hundreds of thousands of spring break travelers in coming weeks.

Last month, the Organization of Chinese Americans in Central Virginia canceled the 2020 Richmond Chinese New Year Festival at UR’s Modlin Center over concerns of exposure.


Plus
One more day: assembly wraps up work after passing major measures, will return for budget, judges

One of the most tumultuous and consequential sessions of the General Assembly in decades is down to one day.

After 61 days of acting on a flood of far-reaching legislation, the Democratic-led assembly will meet Thursday to adopt a two-year budget and changes to the spending plan for the current fiscal year. The legislature also will elect judges to fill seats on the State Corporation Commission and the Virginia Court of Appeals.

Lawmakers quickly moved into high gear during the forced overtime on Sunday.

Both chambers approved legislation that, if signed by Gov. Ralph Northam, legalizes casino gambling and sports betting, raises the minimum wage, gives localities the option of collective bargaining with public employees, decriminalizes marijuana and gives counties equal authority as cities and towns to tax cigarettes, meals, lodging and admissions.

They also adopted a sweeping transportation funding package that Northam proposed. It would raise the state gas tax by 10 cents a gallon over two years and impose a regional fuel tax of 7.6 cents a gallon in areas outside of Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads and the Interstate 81 corridor that already levy it.

The governor did not succeed in eliminating Virginia’s annual vehicle inspection requirement and toughening highway laws, including a proposal to allow police to enforce the state’s mandatory seat belt law without having other reasons, such as speeding or defective equipment, for citing drivers. The Senate killed Northam’s seat belt proposal twice as the session wound down over the weekend.

It was the inauguration of a General Assembly transformed by elections that gave Democrats control of both chambers for the first time in more than 20 years.

“This General Assembly session has been historic in the extraordinary progress the House of Delegates has made for Virginians in every corner of the commonwealth,” said Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, the first woman elected as speaker.

“In November, voters called for swift, impactful action to make their communities safer and more prosperous,” Filler-Corn said in a statement after the assembly adjourned at 5 p.m. “We have delivered on that mandate.”

Here are some highlights of actions the assembly took Sunday:

Gaming

The House of Delegates approved legislation to let Richmond and four other cities approve casino resorts that invest at least $300 million and provide a new stream of state and local tax revenues.

The House approved bills proposed by Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, and Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach. The legislation would allow Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville and Bristol to approve casino gambling in referendums on Nov. 3. Richmond would have the option of setting a referendum later because the city lags behind the others in choosing a potential casino operator.

Both chambers also approved identical bills proposed by Del. Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax, and Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William, to legalize betting on professional and collegiate sports, except for those involving teams from Virginia public and private colleges and universities.

After the House rejected an initial negotiated agreement on Saturday that would have allowed betting on college sporting events involving public and private institutions in Virginia, both chambers approved a new report that forbids legal betting on Virginia collegiate sports. It also prohibits “proposition” betting on individual athletic performances during any college game.

Earlier in the session, the assembly banned electronic skill games rather than regulating and taxing them. The legislature also allowed the Virginia Lottery to sell its games online.

County tax authority

Virginia counties are on the verge of have equal taxing powers as cities and towns — with some limits — for the first time in more than 80 years.

Legislation proposed by Del. Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax, and Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, would allow counties to impose meals taxes of up to 6% without referendum or seeking assembly permission.

It also would let counties to join almost 120 localities that tax cigarettes, but would cap the local tax at 40 cents per pack. Currently, Fairfax and Arlington are the only counties that tax cigarettes, both at a rate of 30 cents per pack. The bills would grandfather higher tax rates that cities and towns already impose.

The legislation also expands county authority to impose taxes on admissions and transient occupancy.

Transportation

The omnibus transportation bill, proposed by Filler-Corn and Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, passed the House and the Senate.

In addition to raising state and regional gas taxes, the legislation would create the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority and allow sale of $1 billion in bonds to pay Virginia’s share of a $3.7 billion rail deal with CSX Corp. and Amtrak, and $1 billion in bonds to pay for the I-81 improvement plan approved last year.

In an exchange with Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, Saslaw said he couldn’t foresee whether the state would have to raise gas taxes again in the next five years.

“I won’t be here,” said Saslaw, who turned 80 earlier in the session.

“If you can find someone who’ll pour the asphalt for free, we’ll never have to raise the gas tax again,” he told Suetterlein.

Saslaw also clashed with Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, who said tax increases approved by the assembly would put a heavy burden on people who can least afford it.

“We’re setting up a new class of the impoverished,” DeSteph said.

Saslaw shot back, “This bill will help low-income people because they just might be able to get to a job if we do something with the roads and mass transit.”

Marijuana decriminalization

Lawmakers on Sunday also voted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, doing away with jail time and criminal convictions for people found with less than an ounce.

The legislation would levy a $25 civil fine for simple possession, or possession “for personal use,” which is defined as less than an ounce of marijuana, or about 28 grams. An average joint contains a third to a half of a gram, according to academic and federal estimates.

Under legislation heading to Northam, the state’s watchdog agency would study legalization.

Minimum wage

Virginia’s lowest-paid workers will likely see their wages rise to $9.50 an hour by January under landmark legislation the assembly approved Sunday.

It would raise Virginia’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour on Jan. 1 and increase it gradually to $12 an hour in 2023. Northam has said increasing the state’s minimum wage is among his top priorities.

“This is a great day for the working people in Virginia. We are poised to give Virginia’s minimum-wage workers a raise, and they have earned it,” said Del. Jeion Ward, D-Hampton, who introduced a House bill on the issue.

The measure does not call for an increase to $15, which civic groups had argued for. Instead, it calls for a study on the impact of minimum-wage increases.

Collective bargaining

The House and Senate signed off Sunday on a deal to potentially allow public-sector employees, including teachers, to collectively bargain. The measure does not apply to state workers.

The agreement approved by both chambers is a watered-down version of the measure sponsored by Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Prince William, that would have granted the power to workers across the state.

Instead, the legislature opted for a compromise similar to a Saslaw measure that would require local governments to opt into the idea.

Guzman called it a “historic first step” for the state.

Sick leave

The legislature did not require Virginia employers to offer paid sick leave. The Senate did not take a final vote on a measure introduced by Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, that would have required public and private employers with 15 or more employees to provide employees with an hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours they work.

Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, chairwoman of the Finance and Appropriations Committee, said the panel had “serious concerns about the fiscal impact.”

***

Two dozen bills — including legislation on how to implement the proposed constitutional amendment on redistricting — and multiple resolutions died without final action when the assembly adjourned at 5 p.m. Sunday, an hour before the deadline established in the resolution that extended the session beyond its scheduled end on Saturday.

The assembly also let die a pair of bills for a battery storage pilot project sought by Dominion Energy that would have used school buses to store electricity.

On Thursday, lawmakers will discuss limiting the number of bills they introduce next year in response to the overwhelming volume of legislation that sent lawmakers beyond midnight into extended “legislative days” three times.

The House rejected a Senate attempt to limit the number of bills legislators can file ahead of next year’s 45-day session.

“We’re fine, because we already have a bill limit — 15 in odd years,” said House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, after the scheduled 60-day session did not end on time.


Crime
Nephew of slaying victim feels betrayed by new Va. law restoring parole for juvenile offenders

Scott Campbell’s aunt, Anna Jean Anderson, was raped and murdered in her Smyth County home in 1996, just a few days before her 69th birthday.

The retired teacher had taught fifth grade to one of her two killers, 17-year-old Joshua David Widener.

Legislation that could benefit juvenile offenders like Widener was before the Virginia General Assembly during this year’s session, leading Campbell to shuttle from his home in Bristol to Richmond, where he argued passionately against the legislation, to no avail.

At times last month, Campbell was a lone voice lobbying legislators against two bills that were later passed. One restores parole eligibility for juvenile offenders like Widener, and another lowers the hurdles required to win writs of actual innocence.

The issue, as he sees it, is not complicated.

“It was my understanding that it was the judge’s intention that he’d leave jail in a pine box,” Campbell said of Widener.

Now, Campbell feels betrayed. “This is my government. This is my state, and that’s what the judge said. If you can’t rely on that, what can you rely on?”

Campbell believes he and other victims have been overlooked this year as Virginia lawmakers enacted criminal justice changes in light of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, low crime rates, sentencing and prosecutorial reform movements, and the new political complexion of state government.

Much the same thing happened in reverse three decades ago, when a major criminal justice reform movement was championed by get-tough-on-crime advocates who won out over those urging moderation and prison alternatives.

Virginia was in the midst of a violent crime wave in the early and mid-1990s, with many of the high-profile crimes perpetrated by parolees.

In 1998, Widener was sentenced to four consecutive life terms, without parole, for capital murder, rape, burglary and robbery.

Since August, however, Campbell, 46, who owns an antiques business, has been haunted by the possibility that Widener, now 40, may someday be released from prison. He is determined to try to prevent it.

Campbell is not affiliated with a victims’ rights group. He said his efforts are on behalf of his aunt, his mother and others close to him.

***

Prior to the abolition of parole in 1995, a complicated system of parole and good-time sentence reductions could mean a prisoner served as little as one-sixth of their sentence, leaving some jurors and victims feeling deceived.

At the time, 60% of those paroled did not return to prison within three years of their release. But a 1994 study found that between 1990 and 1992, 4% of the state’s murders, 2% of its rapes and 9% of its robberies were committed by people on discretionary parole.

Officials, promising to get tough on crime, enacted sweeping changes, dubbed “truth in sentencing.” Parole was ended for crimes committed on or after Jan. 1, 1995, and violent, repeat criminals were targeted for stiff sentences. Since then, crime has fallen dramatically in Virginia, though the extent to which tougher sentences played a part is in dispute. Also, crime has fallen sharply across the country, not just in Virginia.

Critics of tough sentencing, then and now, contend that too many people — a disproportionate number of them minorities — were needlessly sent to prison for too long and at great public expense, destroying salvageable lives and wreaking havoc on families and communities.

Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, a former prosecutor, believes the truth-in-sentencing measures played a key role in reducing crime and fears that changes in the works threaten progress that has been curbing crime in recent decades.

FBI statistics show violent and nonviolent crime in Virginia is at the lowest rate since 1980. In 1990, Virginia had the 17th-lowest violent crime rate in the U.S.; now it is the fourth-lowest.

Bell opposed bringing back parole eligibility.

However, since 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court has taken the following actions: barred juveniles from death sentences; limited life-without-parole sentences for juveniles to those who commit homicide; and banned mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all juvenile offenders.

In light of the decisions, Beltway sniper Lee Boyd Malvo, a juvenile offender, sought resentencing, arguing that his life term was mandatory.

In Virginia, people convicted of capital murder can be sentenced only to death or life without parole. That led advocates for juvenile capital murderers to argue that life-without-parole sentences were mandatory. The Virginia Supreme Court held otherwise, noting that judges had the power to reduce a life term.

The legal battle over what was mandatory led to the U.S. Supreme Court, where a ruling was pending until it became moot last month when Virginia joined a growing number of states barring life without parole for juvenile offenders.

***

All this started crashing down on Campbell on Aug. 19 when he opened a letter from the Virginia Department of Corrections notifying his family that a request had been made by a reporter to interview one of his aunt’s killers.

A story on SWVAtoday.com on Dec. 19 reported that Widener, as a juvenile offender serving a life term, was awaiting the decision in Malvo’s case to see if he also might get a new sentencing hearing.

Asked to comment for this story, Stephen Northup, one of Widener’s pro bono lawyers with the Richmond firm of Troutman Sanders, said the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth asked if the firm would take Widener’s case.

Northup said he reviewed Widener’s prison records and met with him before recommending it do so.

“I wanted to ensure that he would not be a risk to public safety if he were to be released,” Northup said.

“Widener is a poster child for the rationale underlying the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions that juveniles should not be sentenced to life in prison without taking into consideration their youth and the possibility for rehabilitation and a transformation of their lives as they mature into adulthood,” Northup wrote in an email.

Campbell doesn’t buy it. He questions how someone capable of raping and killing his grade-school teacher could ever change.

Smyth County Sheriff B.C. “Chip” Shuler, one of the investigators in the case, said, “I don’t have a crystal ball as to what he would do if he gets released.” But, he added, “I really have some concerns that this fellow would end up back in society.”

Shuler could not discuss Widener’s juvenile record but said this had not been Widener’s first brush with police. “He escalated to serious crime pretty quickly. It doesn’t get any worse than what he did.”

Campbell discovered that Widener was writing books available outside the prison system. One of them, “My Life From the Inside,” says all proceeds from its sales will go to the Smyth County Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, or D.A.R.E., to benefit youth.

From Campbell’s perspective, the books are provocations.

“This guy is tormenting my family,” he said.

Campbell also learned that bills were pending in the Virginia House and Senate to restore parole eligibility to juvenile offenders like Widener after serving 20 years. Other bills would lower the hurdles for people who claim they are innocent and wrongfully convicted to prove their innocence, which Campbell fears someone like Widener could fraudulently exploit to gain freedom.

He spoke before lawmakers four times in February and went to dozens of legislative offices to make his position known.

His pitches before the committees were respectful; his pain and concern apparent.

Appearing before a House Courts of Justice subcommittee meeting last month, Campbell read from the transcript on what Circuit Judge Charles H. Smith told Widener at his sentencing:

“’You’re so young I don’t think that you fully realize the full impact of all this yet and perhaps you won’t for many years to come as you face a life in prison behind bars looking out at the world as it goes by and your life goes by. But this lady’s life is gone, forever, senselessly, needlessly, tragically and horribly.’”

His voice breaking at times, Campbell said, “The reason I had to bring the judge’s order is because my words are not having any effect. I have not seen one iota of movement ... up here in this building the last four weeks.”

He conceded that there could be innocent people in prison who need help. But he argued that the bill under consideration would allow inmates to keep returning to courts “in perpetuity.”

“If you want to give somebody one shot and they can prove it, that’s one thing. But you open up the window, you open up a door for this guy right here? He’ll run through it every time,” he told the subcommittee.

Bell was among those watching that evening. He said Campbell’s views reflect those of many victims and their families.

“For many, it was the worst moment of their lives,” he said.

He said victims are a part of almost every trial for violent crime and when there is a plea agreement, the terms are discussed with them ahead of time, especially concerning how long the defendant will be incarcerated.

“I think it is terribly unfair to try to change the sentence years later, after crime victims have tried to move on with their lives,” Bell said.

Campbell could not agree more.

“This has been a whirlwind. When we found out about this on August the 19th and started looking into it, it’s been blowing my mind.”

He said, “You never know what you’re going to find in your mailbox or the journey it will send you on. What I’ve experienced for the last few months has changed me forever.”


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Plus
Bill inspired by RTD 'Unguarded' series passes unanimously

State lawmakers have unanimously passed a bill to reform the state’s guardianship system in response to a Richmond Times-Dispatch investigation.

The bill awaiting Gov. Ralph Northam’s signature would prohibit an attorney representing a health care provider or other entity who argues that a person is incapacitated and in need of a guardian from then serving as the person’s guardian, unless a judge determines there is no acceptable alternative.

Sen. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, filed Senate Bill 1072 after the Times-Dispatch investigation in November revealed that VCU Health System had taken hundreds of low-income patients to court to have a guardian appointed for them — and that, in many cases, the appointed guardian was the hospital’s attorney.

“I wanted to fix what I saw as an unacceptable practice,” Mason said in an interview Friday.

The arrangement used by VCU Health put the attorney named as guardian in the position of being charged with looking out for the best interests of a patient deemed unable to care for themselves at the same time the attorney was paid by a health care provider that is often losing thousands of dollars every day the patient stays in the facility.

Ten people who specialize in guardianship, medical ethics, law and disability rights told The Times-Dispatch that the setup calls into question the attorney’s ability to independently advocate for the patient under his guardianship.

The investigation, which detailed the experiences of two families whose loved ones were put under the guardianship of the hospital’s attorney, included analysis of more than 250 guardianship cases sponsored by health care providers in Richmond.

It found that people who are brought to Richmond court for guardianship — which takes away their rights to make life, medical and financial decisions — rarely have a lawyer to represent their interests; that hearings frequently last about 15 minutes; and the person appointed by the court to investigate the case was the same person in the majority of cases and was recommended to the court by the hospital’s lawyer.

Attorney Shawn Majette had up to 120 people under his guardianship at a time and rarely visited his wards, according to annual reports he filed. In 13 cases, he also resigned from being the patient’s guardian with the caveat that he could resume the work if the patient ever ended up at VCU Medical Center again.

“That part was the most egregious to me,” Mason said of the resignation clause. “They’re not ever going to do that again.”

Before the investigation was published, Majette, his firm and two other Virginia attorneys said there was no ethical conflict in his representing the hospital and being appointed a patient’s guardian because he ceased to represent the hospital the moment the guardianship order was signed.

He also said he provided a charitable service for many people who would not have a guardian otherwise and that he trusted the state’s Health Department and Adult Protective Services to ensure his wards’ safety in the nursing homes where he places them, since he does not visit regularly.

VCU Health said it did not take a position on the bill, and Majette’s law firm, ThompsonMcMullan, said through a spokeswoman that it does not lobby for or against any legislation related to its practice.

“At VCU Health, we always strive to improve the quality of services we deliver to our patients and their families. This includes the discharge of our patients to safe environments. The legal guardianship process is not an issue unique to VCU Health, but an issue that affects all hospitals and health care organizations in Virginia and beyond,” VCU Health said in a statement Friday.

“We support finding solutions that benefit all patients and their families across the country, but we do not comment on pending legislation.”

Still, the hospital system said earlier this year that it is in conversations with community partners to discuss guardianship alternatives. VCU Health would not elaborate on who the community partners are or provide details about the conversations.

The stories alarmed Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, who decided to co-patron Senate Bill 1072.

McClellan knew Ora and William Lomax, the couple in their 80s whose experience of having William placed under the attorney’s guardianship against Ora’s protests was featured in The Times-Dispatch.

The Lomaxes were constituents of hers and known for their community activism and civil rights work in the Richmond area for decades.

“I’m part of the sandwich generation,” said McClellan, describing people who care for aging parents and their own children at the same time. “You start to think, ‘That could be me.’ ... It could very easily be any one of us who are in that situation or our parents.”

McClellan said she hopes the legislation will at least begin a conversation about how to fix what she described as cracks in the state’s guardianship system.

Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, applauded Mason for bringing the legislation and said he intends to continue to look into changes that can be made to improve the guardianship system.

“That is the largest, most glaring conflict of interest I’ve ever seen,” Morrissey said of the hospital’s attorney being appointed guardian. “The way [the wards and families] were treated was shameful. It was disrespectful to another human. There are going to be ramifications.”

In one case in which Majette became a paralyzed man’s guardian, Majette argued for VCU Health that a judge should either appoint a guardian for the man or allow the hospital to discharge him “to any public street, way or location.”

The Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia’s work group charged with improving guardianship practices in the state, known as WINGS, also discussed The Times-Dispatch’s articles at its meeting in November.

The group identified several areas to focus on in 2020, including promoting education of judges on guardianship best practices; raising awareness of the long-term care ombudsman; investigating a possible volunteer monitoring program for guardians; promoting education of and involvement with hospital discharge planners; studying a need for ethics education for guardians; examining a possible cap on the number of cases for a guardian; considering standards of practice for Virginia guardians; considering improvements in guardian ad litem practice; and further identifying data collection improvements, according to Kristi Wright, spokeswoman for the Office of the Executive Secretary.

Guardianship experts said they believe more changes could be on the horizon.

“I think that there’s going to be a greater emphasis on monitoring,” said Pamela Teaster, a gerontology professor at Virginia Tech who helped create the state’s public guardianship system. “I hope there is. I think it’s needed.”

“There are more conversations about what the problems [are that] might need to be addressed,” said Sally Balch Hurme, a Virginia-based elder law attorney who served as chairwoman of the National Guardianship Network and helped write a model guardianship law for the Uniform Law Commission.

“I think the conversations might continue through 2020 so that perhaps there can be ... a determination of what legislation really needs to be done in a more comprehensive way.”