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More than half of Virginia’s state-run mental hospitals are closing to new admissions

Eastern State Hospital in James City County
Eastern State Hospital in James City County(Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services)
Published: Jul. 10, 2021 at 4:17 PM EDT
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More than half of Virginia’s state-run mental hospitals are immediately closing to new admissions, the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services announced Friday.

The abrupt order from DBHDS Commissioner Alison Land comes amid a workforce crisis that’s resulted in a “dangerous environment where staff and patients are at increasing risk for physical harm,” she wrote in a letter to providers across the state.

Five facilities — Catawba Hospital, Central State Hospital, Eastern State Hospital, Piedmont Geriatric Hospital and Western State Hospital — were ordered to reduce their bed capacity and consolidate staff. As a result, those hospitals will “temporarily” close to new admissions, Land wrote, though she gave no indication as to how long the order would last.

The dramatic reduction in beds is a new low point for the state’s beleaguered mental hospitals, which have been struggling for years with an unsustainable spike in patient admissions. In 2014, Virginia passed legislation that’s now commonly known as its “bed of last resort” law. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, after his own son killed himself and seriously injured Deeds during a mental health crisis.

Under state code, Virginia’s psychiatric hospitals are required to admit patients after an eight-hour period if a bed can’t be found at another facility, including private hospitals with behavioral health units. As a result, those private hospitals have become more and more reluctant to admit psychiatric patients, especially if they’re experiencing complex or aggressive symptoms.

The burden has fallen on state hospitals to accept those patients, resulting in a surge of new admissions over the last several years. Increasingly, the state is handling what are often referred to as “inappropriate admissions” — patients with complex medical needs that can’t be treated in the public psychiatric facilities.

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