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Federal funding could provide immediate relief to Virginia’s state-run mental hospitals

Eastern State Hospital in James City County
Eastern State Hospital in James City County(Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services)
Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 12:16 PM EDT
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With Virginia’s state-run mental hospitals in the midst of a self-described crisis, Gov. Ralph Northam is proposing a $485 million investment in behavioral health services.

The proposed allotment was announced Wednesday ahead of next week’s special General Assembly session, where lawmakers will decide how to distribute $4.3 billion in federal relief funding. Mental health funding has been a closely watched initiative since the state halted new admissions to more than half of its publicly funded psychiatric facilities amid major, and widespread, staffing shortages.

Just over half of the proposal —$247 million in total — would use flexible funding from the American Rescue Plan, largely to address urgent staffing needs within the facilities, according to Secretary of Finance Joe Flores. Another $128 million comes from nonflexible aid specifically earmarked in the last two Congressional relief packages for community-based mental health and substance abuse services.

The majority of those earmarked funds will go directly to community services boards — local agencies that provide safety net services to Virginians with mental health and substance use disorders as well as those with developmental disabilities. But the governor is also proposing another $30 million in rescue plan funding for local crisis services, including mobile units to respond to patients experiencing a mental health emergency.

The “two-pronged” approach, Flores said, is an effort to ease the burden on Virginia’s state-run psychiatric hospitals. For years, the facilities have struggled to manage a growing share of involuntary admissions that are no longer being accepted at private hospitals.

That situation reached a breaking point earlier this month, when Alison Land, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, halted new admissions at more than half of the state’s hospitals. One facility — Catawba Hospital near Roanoke — will begin accepting “limited” numbers of new admissions on Thursday, but the crisis facing state-run hospitals “continues to be fluid and intense across the commonwealth,” the agency said in a news release.

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