HENRICO — Describing Virginia’s current behavioral health system as being in “crisis,” Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Wednesday outlined a sweeping $230 million plan to close gaps in how the state cares for adults and children. children facing mental health, substance abuse and other behavioral issues.
“The Commonwealth behavioral health safety net is not equipped to meet the demands placed on it,” Youngkin said.
In a sometimes emotional announcement at Henrico Doctors Hospital, the Republican governor previewed parts of a budget proposal he plans to unveil on Thursday while outlining a six-point plan that, according to his administration, will strengthen Virginia’s struggling systems to provide assistance to those in crisis.
“Almost 1.5 million Virginians have some form of mental health issue,” he said. “About 340,000 of them have a serious mental illness. And yet six in 10 adults with some form of mental illness have not received any form of treatment.
Under the “Right Help, Right Now” plan, Youngkin is offering significant investments in crisis response solutions that do not rely on emergency rooms such as mobile units and drop-in centers. emergency, as well as expanding community care, initiatives to bolster the state’s chronically understaffed behavioral health workforce, and funding for addiction treatment efforts.
“The current behavioral health system is overwhelmed and failing to meet the needs of Virginians in crisis with an outdated model of care that relies too heavily on hospitals,” the Youngkin administration said in a statement.
“Complete transformation of the continuum of care”
Senator Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, a practicing OB-GYN, called the proposal a “complete transformation of the continuum of care” that offers an improvement over the General Assembly’s “whack-a-mole” approach. in behavioral health.
“We are in crisis and we all know it,” she said.
Democrats and Republicans will have to agree to Youngkin’s budget demands, which include $20 million for 34 new Mobile Crisis Units, $58 million to increase the number of Crisis Reception Centers and Crisis Stabilization Units in statewide, $9 million to expand telebehavioral health services in public schools and on college campuses and $9 million for transportation and hospital monitoring by law enforcement and medical other staff members.
Dunnavant said she believes the overall budget proposal would have bipartisan support, but could face disagreements over the specific allocation of dollars.
“I think the only variable will be how the money is spent,” she said.
Several Senate Democrats reacted positively to the announcement on Wednesday, with Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, saying, “We are delighted that the Governor is willing to work with us on an issue on which Democrats have taken the lead for years.”
“We’re certainly willing to work bipartisanly,” said Favola, who also serves on the Virginia Behavioral Health Commission.
The challenge, she said, would be implementing Youngkin’s proposals, especially with worker shortages in the field.
One solution she proposed was reform of the Virginia laws governing barrier offenses, which prohibit many health and social service providers from hiring people with certain criminal convictions. While barrier felony laws are not unusual, Virginia’s version of the restriction is widely seen as unusual in scope, with 176 different convictions barring applicants from working in behavioral health. Previous legislative efforts to reform the state system have failed, but Favola said she hopes the proposal can garner more support this year.
Virginia’s behavioral health system has faced far-reaching challenges in recent years, with a shrinking workforce that in July 2021 led to the temporary closure closure of five of its psychiatric hospitals to new admissions.
The state has also struggled to meet the requirements of a 2014 “bed of last resort” law that requires public hospitals to admit patients under temporary detention orders within eight hours if a bed cannot. be found in any other hospital, including private facilities.
Pre-trial detention orders are issued by a magistrate for people in mental health crisis who authorities say have a “substantial likelihood” of harming themselves or others.
The law of last resort bed was proposed by Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, after his son Gus stabbed Deeds and then killed himself during a mental health crisis. State officials had been unable to find Gus Deeds a mental bed.
The incident was one of several Youngkin and his wife, First Lady Suzanne Youngkin, referenced Wednesday in support of the state’s behavioral health system overhaul plan. Both also mentioned the 2012 death of Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears’ daughter and two grandchildren in a car accident during a mental health episode suffered by Earle-Sears’ daughter.
“There’s no one in the room who hasn’t been directly affected by a mental or behavioral health issue, and our family is no different,” Youngkin told reporters after the announcement. “Lieutenant. Governor Earle-Sears is a very dear friend, and you have all heard her story. And we have so many friends who have similar stories.
The governor also pointed to two high-profile mass shootings at the University of Virginia and a Walmart in Chesapeake last month as examples of the need to expand mental health resources. After the Walmart shooting, Youngkin told reporters he intended to propose legislation in the next session on the issue.
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