CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. — Getting access to care when you need it the most has been a struggle for some Virginians dealing with mental health and substance abuse issues. But now, additional funding from the General Assembly is making sure communities across the state are set up with the Same Day Access program. 

All 40 community service boards (CSBs) will now be able to take in patients, on the same day, to be assessed for treatment programs based on their needs. Initially, 18 CSBs rolled out these walk-in hours, starting in 2017. 

Before, it was tough to get people in for appointments because it took a long time to set up, health officials say. 

“They were told they were going to be placed on a waiting list, and they would be called by someone within the program at a later time,” Sheila Brown, the Clinical 

Supervisor at Chesterfield Mental Health Services said. “Individuals were waiting anywhere from 11 to up to 40 days.”

Chesterfield Mental Health Support Services has had same-day access since 2015 and is one of the first community service boards to offer it. Over the past two years, about 50 people a week use the services. 

Patients are evaluated by a specialist and are asked a series of questions to figure out which program fits their needs the best. At Chesterfield Mental Health Support Services, they could be assigned to one of four programs, including counseling for adults and youth, as well as psychiatric rehabilitation and substance abuse disorder services. 

“Individuals leave with a first appointment with the program within seven to ten days,” Brown added. 

Same Day Access was set up as part of STEP VA in 2017 and was signed into law by Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The legislation, overall, requires 10 services for CSBs that will be phased in by 2021. 

Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-District 25) has been working to improve mental healthcare in Virginia following the death of his son, Gus, in 2013. He says his family didn’t know Gus was sick until he was 21. 

“It was a constant struggle to get him to a provider if we could find a provider to care for him,” Sen. Deeds said.

Gus was issued an involuntary commitment order by a judge, but no hospital bed could be found to provide him mental health treatment. After returning home, Gus attacked his father and then died by suicide. 

Sen. Deeds says his family had struggled to get Gus help for years. He sees how others could struggle with it too. 

“But as with my son, it’s hard to get them to the doctor sometimes. It’s hard to get them to have a problem that they know has to be addressed,” he said. “But, if you get them to a CSB it’s no good if they’re told they need to come back in six weeks for an appointment.” 

Finishing the expansion of same-day access, Deeds says, is the first step of many. 

“We need to transform the system,” he said. “You can’t lose sight of the fact that we’re not finished, we still have a lot of work to do.”