Youngkin reveals plan to improve behavioral health system

Youngkin reveals plan to improve behavioral health system

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Governor Glenn Youngkin revealed a three-year plan to close treatment gaps in Virginia’s behavioral health system on Wednesday, Dec. 14.

Governor Youngkin outlined his approach at Parham Doctors’ Hospital, Henrico County’s only crisis center. Youngkin said the state’s current system is failing to meet growing mental health needs.

“We have a crisis and the system is not equipped to deal with it,” Youngkin said. “This challenge requires more than just evolution. He calls for a revolution. It is high time for major systemic changes.

In his upcoming budget, Youngkin is proposing a new investment of $230 million for behavioral health improvement.

A big part of this program is to ensure that more people are taken care of on the same day in a crisis situation. Youngkin said the centerpiece of his proposal includes $20 million to fund more than 30 new mobile crisis teams to respond to calls from the 9-8-8 hotline. It also includes $58 million to increase the number of emergency reception centers and stabilization units.

The six-pillar plan aims to bolster behavioral health staff with better pay and relieve pressure on law enforcement by funding more staff dedicated to the issue.

“The average law enforcement officer spends 51 hours on a temporary detention order while the person in crisis often does not receive the critical mental health treatment they desperately need,” Youngkin said.

Youngkin also wants to expand school-based treatment programs. He cited Mental Health America’s most recent ranking, in which Virginia fell from 21st to 48th in the nation for youth mental health.

“Our young people across Virginia remain incredibly fragile,” Youngkin said. “For some, the answer may be to turn to violence, to harm themselves or others, and nowhere has that been clearer than the recent murders in Charlottesville and Chesapeake.”

Amid renewed calls for gun control following two high-profile mass shootings in Virginia, Youngkin previously hinted at his plan to improve mental health services.

Elizabeth Hilscher, a mental health advocate who lost her daughter in the Virginia Tech mass shootings in 2007, said she was thrilled to see Youngkin raise the issue. However, she said the state must do more to address gun violence.

“Very few mentally ill people resort to violence. It’s really important,” said Hilscher. “We need to talk about sensible gun laws in conjunction with mental health.”

On Thursday morning, Youngkin will present this plan and other budget priorities to the General Assembly, where these ideas must be approved to become a reality.

Sen. Creigh Deeds, a Democrat who chairs the Behavioral Health Commission, said he was eager to partner with the Youngkin administration.

“We must face the moment with urgency. People’s lives are at stake. Properly funded, staffed and located, regional crisis centers can play an important role in responding to a crisis and taking stress off the rest of the system. Because every Virginian should have access to the quality services they need, regardless of their zip code. It’s a step in the right direction, but we need to do more,” Deeds said in a statement.

The budget proposed by the Governor includes:

  • $20 million to fund more than 30 new mobile crisis teams, meeting our statewide goal in the first year, to respond to 9-8-8 hotline calls
  • $58 million to increase the number of Crisis Reception Centers and Crisis Stabilization Units, fully funding the number of centers needed in Southwest Virginia and Hampton Roads
  • $15 million to expand elementary, middle and high school mental health program to dozens of new communities
  • $9 million to expand behavioral telehealth services in public schools and college campuses
  • $20 million for partnerships with hospitals for alternatives to emergency services in the event of a crisis
  • $9 million for hospital transportation and monitoring by law enforcement and other personnel
  • $8 million for severe mental illness housing, creating 100 new placements for MCH patients with extraordinary exit barriers
  • $57 million for 500 additional spots on the Medicaid Waiver Priority 1 waitlist and increased provider rates, including respite and companion services
  • $15 million in opioid reduction initiatives, including a campaign to reduce fentanyl poisoning among our youth

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