Five Virginia mental health institutions temporarily halt admissions due to staffing crisis

Published: Jul. 12, 2021 at 11:43 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 12, 2021 at 10:11 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Five of Virginia’s eight mental health institutions have stopped accepting new patients due to a staffing shortage.

The Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) sent a letter Friday to its partners and providers about these new changes and ongoing challenges.

The letter was posted by the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police Friday night, sparking thousands of comments and shares of the post.

Virginia DBHDS Announces Closing of Five State Mental Health Institutions to New Admissions "Until Further Notice" VACP...

Posted by Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police & Foundation on Friday, July 9, 2021

The letter by Commissioner Alison Land stated the challenges state mental health hospitals face are now in immediate crisis due to two reasons:

  • The level of dangerousness is unprecedented
  • Staffing shortages

The following mental health institutions were ordered to immediately reduce their bed capacity, there temporarily closing admissions: Catawba Hospital, Central State Hospital, Eastern State Hospital, Piedmont Geriatric Hospital and Western State Hospital.

“This news last week put an exclamation point on the problem - but the problem already existed,” said Democratic Bath County Senator Creigh Deeds.

For years, Deeds has pushed for mental health reform, especially after he was attacked by his son during a mental health episode.

However, following a year of heightened emotions due to the pandemic, the need for mental health resources is more important than ever.

“We’ve got to focus on ways to keep people out of crisis in the first place,” Deeds said. “That means we need to invest more money in community services. So that people have access to the services they need no matter where they are in Virginia.”

The commissioner’s letter sheds light on the ongoing crisis at mental health hospitals.

Land cited more than 1,500 staffing vacancies across the state, with over 100 resignations in the last two weeks.

“Exit interviews indicate a direct correlation with work hours mandated and lack of safety,” the letter said.

“Honestly, the mental health profession faces some of the same issues that law enforcement does; which is people leaving these jobs because they’re too risky or they don’t pay well,” said Dana Schrad, Executive Director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police.

Schrad believes the lack of available beds could create issues for law enforcement and those in need.

“Law enforcement’s role is to transport people who are subject to emergency commitment orders (ECO) to hospital emergency rooms for medical clearance while the search begins for a psychiatric bed,” the group posted on Facebook. “If a bed is located in a private hospital first, or in a state institution as a “bed of last resort,” then a temporary detention order (TDO) is issued. The law enforcement officer then continues the transport to the mental health facility for detention and treatment.”

However, now with facilities temporarily halting admission, Schrad said these officers are put in a difficult spot.

“There’s literally, in those situations, no place for law enforcement to take anyone and therefore they’re just going to have to release them,” Schrad said.

The DBHDS said admitting more patients would do more harm than good, especially since there have been 63 serious injuries to staff and patients since July 1.

“A lot of people who are in those hospitals, they are in crisis anyway,” Deeds said. “So, when you can reduce the stress level you can make the hospital more comfortable.”

Deeds hopes to bring some relief to these hospitals as soon as possible with his proposals at the Aug. 2 General Assembly special session.

“I hope to be able to use some of the American Rescue money to be able to grant one-time bonuses to some of our frontline employees and use some of the other money to make our hospitals safer, more attractive and hospitable,” he said.

This would be a short-term solution, according to Deeds. However, he plans to push for more reform when it comes to mental health to create more resources across the Commonwealth.

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