Virginia halts admissions at short-staffed mental hospitals

Virginia

Image of the campus from the Eastern State Hospital website

RICHMOND, Va. (AP/WAVY) — Virginia temporarily closed admissions at five mental hospitals Friday amid a staffing crisis.

Behavioral Health and Developmental Services Commissioner Alison Land says the move will allow hospitals to reduce the number of patients through attrition, not discharges, until there are enough employees to care for patients safely.

Five of the state’s eight facilities for adults are affected, according to a letter sent by Land to DBHDS partners and providers on Friday.

Those facilities include:

  • Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg
  • Central State Hospital in Dinwiddie County
  • Catawba Hospital in Catawba
  • Piedmont Geriatric Hospital in Nottoway County
  • Western State Hospital in Staunton

Land says 63 patients and employees have been seriously injured at the state’s mental hospitals since July 1 because of the shortage. There were also 108 resignations in the state in the two weeks leading up to Land’s letter.

Meanwhile, the Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents, the state’s only psychiatric facility for youth, is operating only 18 of its 48 beds because it doesn’t have enough employees to care for more.

Land said the exit interviews by staff indicate there are issues with work hours mandated and lack of safety.

After the announcement, the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police released a statement saying there is “literally no place for people to go who are in critical need of mental health services.”

Executive Director of The Virginia Association Of Chiefs of Police, Dana Schrad, says health officials have a responsibility to take care of the mentally ill and it benefits everyone when we do.

“It’s not as if you can take someone to jail if they haven’t committed a crime. If there’s no mental health bed, there is no place to take them,” said Schrad.

When the system is working and not at capacity, law enforcement will transport people who are subjects of emergency commitment orders to local emergency rooms. At that point, the search begins for a psychiatric bed. The officer will then transport the patient to the mental health facility for detention and treatment.

However, when the system isn’t working, law enforcement can only release the patient back on the street, according to the association.

Schrad believes the solution is something she says the Commonwealth agreed to years ago: shutting down state institutions then expanding and shifting to community-based services.

“I know that other states have hospital security forces that help with that kind of thing. The key issue though is making sure people don’t get to that point of crisis. That when someone is in need of mental health services that they’re readily available in their communities,” said Schrad.

It’s unclear how long this temporary admissions closure will last, but Schrad said community mental health funding and more local advocates are steps in the right direction. 

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