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Virginia will reopen one of five state-run mental hospitals to new admissions

Catawba Hospital near Roanoke is one of five state-run mental hospitals where new admissions...
Catawba Hospital near Roanoke is one of five state-run mental hospitals where new admissions have been halted. (Courtesy of DBHDS)(Virginia Mercury)
Published: Jul. 28, 2021 at 11:38 AM EDT
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Catawba Hospital, a state-run psychiatric facility near Roanoke, will begin accepting a limited number of new patients on Thursday, according to a release from the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.

The announcement comes nearly 20 days after Commissioner Alison Land halted admissions to five of the state’s nine mental hospitals, including Catawba — an unprecedented step she acknowledged was taken without consulting department attorneys or the office of Gov. Ralph Northam. At the time, Land said her decision was forced by deteriorating conditions at the facilities, which have struggled for years with understaffing combined with “dangerously” high census levels.

As of Monday, there were still 1,616 staff vacancies across the state hospital system, according to Lauren Cunningham, a spokeswoman for the department. But Catawba “has reduced its census and consolidated staff to cover 85 beds,” according to the release, allowing the facility to safely accept a limited number of admissions.

“There are currently 84 patients at Catawba with more discharges underway,” the department announced. “Initially, the hospital will be held to a census of 85 out of its 110 beds to ensure the situation remains safe and manageable.”

Reopening the facility is a small victory for the beleaguered agency, which has struggled to manage a growing share of involuntary psychiatric admissions compared to private hospitals. Admissions were closed to give the hospitals more time to discharge more patients and narrow the ratio between residents and providers.

Those widespread staffing shortages created “dangerous” conditions for both patients and employees, Land said. Within the first week of July, there were 63 serious injuries among staff and patients, with an average of 4.5 serious incidents across the hospital system every day. Mandatory overtime and high census levels also led to a slew of resignations — including 108 in the two weeks preceding Land’s decision.

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.(Virginia Mercury)

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

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