Virginia DBHDS Announces Closing of Five State Mental Health Institutions to New Admissions "Until Further Notice"
On July 9, 2021, the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) announced the closing to new admissions – until further notice – of five of the eight state institutions for the mentally ill, citing a lack of capacity to meet the growing need.
VACP Statement:On July 9, 2021, the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) announced theannounced the closing to new admissions – until further notice – five of the eight state institutions for the mentally ill, citing a lack of capacity to meet the growing need. There is literally no place for people to go who are in critical need of mental health services.
Law enforcement's role is to transport people who are subject to emergency commitment orders (ECO) to hospital emergency rooms for medical clearance while the search begins for a psychiatric bed. If a bed is located in a private hospital first, or in a state institution as a “bed of last resort,” then a temporary detention order (TDO) is issued. The law enforcement officer then continues the transport to the mental health facility for detention and treatment. That's if the system is working. With the lack of bed capacity and medical and mental health workers, there is simply no room at the inn.
Law enforcement does not have a viable choice: if an ECO/TDO is ordered and there is no psychiatric bed, the only option is street release. This is not a viable or responsible option for the treatment and care of an individual in mental health crisis. More than 25 years ago, Virginia made a verbal commitment to community-based mental health care to eliminate the use of state institutions. The verbal commitment has never been realized. The mental health system says it lacks capacity to meet the needs of the mentally ill. Law enforcement cannot answer this lack of capacity nor meet the expectations of the public when it comes to mental health care. Virginia is in a state of crisis, and no one is listening.
Mental health professionals have shared that it isn't whether the person has insurance that determines whether a bed is found. The critical problem hospitals are facing is the growing number of violent persons in mental health crisis that the hospitals and mental health facilities can't accommodate and that present a great risk for staff. We can empathize but law enforcement can't solve this problem. The only other secure beds are those in jails, and Virginia has made a commitment not to jail the mentally ill. Being mentally ill is not a crime.
Policymakers and the public need to understand that law enforcement didn't create this problem and we can't solve it. In fact, the public doesn't want law enforcement to solve it. Civil commitment should be the solution of LAST resort for people in need of help. Virginia needs and deserves a mental health system that treats people in crisis and keeps them out of the criminal justice system. Virginia law enforcement is there to help people in crisis, but we can't do it alone. The mental health system is broken.
FULL ANNOUNCEMENT FROM DBHDS COMMISSIONER (PDF)