ARLINGTON, Va. (WAVY) — Governor Ralph Northam announced on Wednesday that Virginia will invest $485 million in federal and state funding to address pressing challenges in Virginia’s behavioral health system.

The plan will work to alleviate pressure on state mental health hospitals, strengthen community-based services, and increase support for substance abuse treatment and prevention programs.

“Every Virginian should have access to the behavioral health care and treatment they need, either in their home communities or in a state-operated facility,” said Governor Northam. “The pandemic has led to increases in depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, and other mental health issues in Virginia and across the country, which has added to the strain on our behavioral health system and the valued people who work within it.”

The funding is part of the $4.3 billion in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding available to the Commonwealth.

“This funding package is a down payment that will significantly increase support for our state hospitals, community-based providers, and substance abuse prevention and treatment programs so they can best help those who rely on their services,” added Northam.

Broadly speaking, the funding is focused on three specific areas:

  • state mental hospitals,
  • community-based services and
  • opioid and substance abuse treatment.

“State hospitals are in desperate need of help,” said Senator Louise Lucas, Chair of the Senate Education and Health Committee.“This funding will mean that Virginians can access the quality care they need, when they need it, without placing a burden on our community services.”

Officials say this funding has nearly $200 million for staffing at state behavioral health facilities and intellectual disability training centers. This includes $45 million to continue staff bonuses and an additional $154 million in the two-year budget Governor Northam will submit in December for salary adjustments.

“These measures outline a significant step towards ensuring state hospitals remain operational for the immediate and foreseeable future,” said Delegate Mark Sickles, Chair of the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee. “We have to take action now to address these critical issues.”

In 2020, Virginia had nearly 2,300 overdose deaths which was a 41% increase from 2019. This new plan also allocates $103 million to address these deaths and to add funding for opioid and substance abuse treatment programs.

Community-based crisis services are also a cornerstone of the funding. It includes $150 million to increase access to community-based crisis services and child and family support services, and provide dispatcher training for the Marcus Alert program, a new statewide mental health alert system designed to ensure behavioral health experts are involved in responding to individuals in crisis.

Another $5 million dollars will be dedicated to providing permanent supportive housing in Northern Virginia to assist with bed shortages.

“Expanding community capacity ensures patients are cared for in an appropriate setting,” said Delegate Rodney Willett, Chair of the Behavioral Health Subcommittee.“I am grateful for the partnership between the Department of Behavioral Health and Development Services, the Administration, the General Assembly and the private sector to ensure equitable behavioral health services across the state.”

This announcement was made in advance of the August 2nd special session, as well as part of “Investment Week.”