Cleared to leave Virginia’s overcrowded mental hospitals, many patients have nowhere to go

Cleared to leave Virginia’s overcrowded mental hospitals, many patients have nowhere to go
A shared living space in the long-term intensive care building at Central State Hospital in Petersburg. (Source: Katie O'Connor / Virginia Mercury)

Virginia’s psychiatric hospitals are dangerously full. Though considered safest when operating at 85 percent capacity, often nearly every single bed is taken.

Yet at any given time, many of those patients have been deemed ready for discharge, but they remain in the hospital because they have nowhere else to go.

In May, there were 246 people on the state’s Extraordinary Barriers to Discharge List, meaning some extenuating circumstance has prevented them from leaving the hospital, most often because there is no appropriate provider or facility in their community able to offer them care. May marked the largest the list has been in the past five years.

In total for the 2019 fiscal year, there was an average of 186.7 people on the list, compared to 167.2 in 2018 and 186.6 in 2017, said Daniel Herr, deputy commissioner for facility services with the Department of Health and Developmental Services.

The list illustrates the numerous pressures squeezing state hospitals. Not only have they seen a huge influx of admissions over the last five years, they have also consistently had trouble finding a place for those patients to go once their treatment is complete.

The Virginia Mercury is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.