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In this January 2019 file photo, Shashi Gupta talks to her daughter, Alisha, at Central Virginia Training Center. 

A federal lawsuit filed by the Gupta family claiming their daughter would be fed using practices that go against her religion has been referred to mediation.

As Alisha Gupta faced transfer from the Central Virginia Training Center in Madison Heights to Hiram Davis Medical Center in Petersburg, her parents understood that she’d be fed a “synthetic” diet through a feeding machine as opposed to the more natural, organic foods she’d been ingesting through a hand operated “funnel-feeding tube device” at CVTC, the suit states.

Her diet and the method by which workers fed her was at the request of her parents so that she would live by Jain Hindu traditions, according to the suit.

The Guptas agreed to Alisha’s transfer to Hiram Davis, but filed the suit in early April 2019 seeking a court injunction that would prevent “violation of Alisha’s religious beliefs and traditions by alteration of her diet and/or method of feeding,” the suit states. The suit named Governor Ralph Northam, state health officials and the retired director of CVTC, Dick Roberts.

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In the defendants’ response, prepared by an attorney at the state Office of the Attorney General, they claimed Alisha would be fed a non-synthetic, organic and vegetarian formula through a feeding tube by a healthcare worker, not a machine.

A trial in the case was scheduled to start April 2, but U.S. District Courts ordered all trials scheduled before May to be rescheduled because of the coronavirus. Three days after the court made that order, U.S. District Court Judge Norman Moon referred the case to mediation on March 27 with the consent of both sides, to try and reach a settlement.

Reached this week, the legal team at The Rutherford Institute in Charlottesville, which has represented the Guptas in the case, said the family has lingering concerns that Alisha won’t continue to receive the same care that “respected her religious beliefs and health needs” from “committed” workers at CVTC.

The Guptas aren’t the only ones with those concerns — many families with loved ones at CVTC bemoaned the loss of what they considered top quality care from the facility as it slowly closed over the past eight years. Last week Alisha was moved from CVTC to Hiram Davis. She was the last client staying at the center, which closes for good this year.

“The postponement allowed the parties additional time for mediation in the hope of reaching an agreeable resolution of the lawsuit,” the legal team wrote in an emailed statement.

Officials with the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, which oversees the two facilities and whose late commissioner was a defendant in the case, declined to comment on the case being referred to mediation.

Rachel Mahoney covers courts for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5554.

Rachel Mahoney covers courts for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5554.

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