Virginia rolls out new fleet to take mentally ill to psychiatric hospitals
State officials got their first look Monday at a fleet of modern new SUVs that will begin to replace the police cars that currently transport subjects of involuntary mental health detentions to psychiatric hospitals around the state.
The new program has two aims: To lessen the burden on local police departments, whose officers can be tied up for hours at a time transporting patients, sometimes hundreds of miles to the nearest treatment center with an open bed. And to reduce trauma on patients who, in most cases have not committed a crime but nonetheless find themselves in the back of a police car — sometimes handcuffed — despite not having committed a crime.
“The transportation can give people dignity,” said Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath. “You shouldn’t have to be handcuffed just because you’re sick, just because you’re in crisis.”
The unmarked vehicles are specially designed to reduce the stigma that might accompany being loaded into a police car, officials said. They expect them to replace police cars for about half of transports.
Six vehicles will go into service early next month in Southwest Virginia, where patients can face the longest drives to mental health facilities. The program will roll out statewide with a total of 12 vehicles by 2021.
The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.