VIDEO: VACP News Conference to Address the Mental Health Services Funding Crisis in Virginia

On Tuesday, July 27, the VACP held a joint news conference with the Virginia Municipal League, the Virginia Association of Community Services Boards, and Mental Health America of Virginia to address the long-neglected mental health services funding crisis in the Commonwealth

This news conference is a joint effort of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, the Virginia Municipal League, the Virginia Association of Community Services Boards, and Mental Health America of Virginia.
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 state's eight state-run psychiatric facilities, citing a lack of capacity to meet the growing need. This creates significant delays in finding an available inpatient bed for individuals in psychiatric crisis. These delays come with significant risks both to the patients as well as to staff and others involved in their care at the community level.
Our joint concern is for an immediate solution to this crisis and to encourage a sustained commitment to community-based mental health services.
News conference speakers include:
  • Herndon Police Chief Maggie DeBoard, President, Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police
  • Jennifer Faison, Executive Director, Virginia Association of Community Services Boards
  • Bruce Cruser, Executive Director, Mental Health America of Virginia
  • Janet Areson, Director of Policy Development, Virginia Municipal League
  • Marion Chief John Clair, Board Member, Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police


Jennifer Faison, Virginia Association of Community Services Boards • • (804) 330-3141 

Good morning.  My name is Jennifer Faison and I am the Executive Director of the Virginia Association of Community Services Boards.  I am here today on behalf of Virginia's 40 Community Services Boards which are the publicly funded organizations that make up the safety net for behavioral health and developmental disability services.  I am in very fine company this morning with the wide variety of stakeholder partners gathered, all in support of the same goals.

The VACSB asks policymakers, including the Governor and the General Assembly, to put ALL OF US FIRST.  What I mean by that is I am asking to put the entire public system first, which includes the CSBs as well as the state hospitals.  This also means putting the needs of the individuals served in this system first.

Putting all of us first means that for every dollar the Governor and the General Assembly decides to invest in the state hospitals, an equal investment needs to be made in community-based care.  We cannot continue with our cognitive bias toward zero-sum thinking where what one side of the system gains comes at the expense of the other side of the system.  Mutual gain should be the goal if we want to benefit the individuals we serve.

We understand the pressures created by a lack of staff at state hospitals and we understand the risks associated with operating in that environment, many CSBs operate 24/7 residential programs serving individuals with significant behavioral health challenges just like our state hospitals do; however, closing state hospitals to admissions simply shifts those risks from the hospitals to the community, it does not solve the underlying problems.  

We are in a position in Virginia where we have to sustain and keep safe the system that we have at the same time we are investing to build the system that we all want.  It will be expensive, but people with behavioral health and developmental disability service needs deserve no less than our very best effort.

There is an unprecedented opportunity with the billions of dollars in federal funding that are coming to Virginia to assist the community with its significant workforce challenges using a similar strategy of investments as those currently being contemplated to assist state facilities with their workforce shortages.  This includes recruitment and retention bonuses, scholarships and student loan repayment, among other things.  Our private provider partners need support as well, but we are here to draw focus to the public safety net system.

Our full proposal for the use of ARPA funds is available on the VACSB website but we cannot stop there.  Our system is also in need of ONGOING and SUSTAINED investments using state general funds in order to fully realize the statewide goals that have been identified and begin to move to a system that works well for the people of Virginia and truly puts ALL OF US FIRST.

Marion Police Chief John Clair, Executive Board, Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police

My desire is to speak directly on behalf of the law enforcement professionals in the rural and Appalachian regions of the Commonwealth, as well as on behalf of our citizens. The people of Southwest Virginia need the General Assembly to understand that rural infrastructure cannot absorb mental health system failures. These service needs are not evenly distributed across the Commonwealth; they are exceptionally acute in our region, and the human service system of our region is already stretched incredibly thin dealing with the generational impacts of the opioid epidemic.

Our law enforcement agencies do not have the surge capacity of more populated areas, our hospitals do not have the surge capacity of larger health systems. What we do have is a statistically significant and demonstrable need for expediently delivered, quality, mental health services. The struggles of rural economies and the impact of increased service mandates are well documented, and it is time these issues cease to be ignored.

In rural areas the geography alone can be the most challenging aspect of service delivery, and this only becomes compounded by the overall reduction of possible avenues of placement. Law enforcement has been sounding the general alarm for over a year about the trajectory of these issues, and we feel like we've been largely ignored, which is a difficult pill to swallow considering the amount of scrutiny placed on our interactions with mental health patients.

Our legislators cannot have it both ways, stop putting us in a no-win situation, we all know that no amount of “training” will fix this – it's a system issue, a system authored by legislators, and it is time for a serious revision.

Bruce Cruser, Executive Director, Mental Health America of Virginia • 804.257.5591 ext. 102

Since our founding in 1937, the mental health association has worked to improve state hospital conditions, increase public awareness of mental health, and establish community mental health services.

For several years, Virginia has ranked around 41st in the country for access to a trained mental health workforce. For several decades, Virginia has underfunded mental health services, and over-relied on hospitals at the expenseof care in the community.

The pandemic's impact on the mental health of Virginians has brought an already stressed system to a crisis point. The result has been systemic failures, with frightening results for some individuals living with a mental illness and their families.
  • Adults and children in crisis are waiting indefinitely in emergency rooms for a treatment facility.
  • Local jails hold many whose incarceration could have been prevented with access to services.
This is not the way we should treat someone with a serious illness.

State hospitals must be safe, at all times, for all patients and staff, and be equipped to provide the best opportunities for patients needing long term care. At the same time, a permanent solution to the current bed crisis requires a diverse and equitable system of community care, in all corners of the state.

We have an opportunity now to transform the system. Use federal funds and recurring state funds to:
  • Provide the hospitals what they need to be fully staffed and safe.
  • Provide our public Community Services Boards what they need to deliver services that prevent a need for hospitalization.
  • Provide incentives for more types of mental health services to meet needs in underserved communities.
  • Increase Medicaid payment rates to treat mental illness to at least equal the rates for treating substance use (IOP and PHP rates for providing mental health services are half the amount for treating substance use).
  • Build out crisis stabilization services closer to home that prevent many individuals from needing hospital care. This also means law enforcement would spend fewer hours transporting those in crisis to hospitals across the state. It's less expensive, with less trauma for children and adults.
What can the public do now? Get help before things reach a crisis point. Treat mental health as part of everyone's overall health. If you or a loved one are not well, talk about it with someone you trust to be supportive. Make an appointment with a mental health service provider. There may be long waiting lists, but the sooner you make those contacts, the sooner you will feel better.
MHAV Warm Line: 866.400.6428.

If we address hospital care in concert with a range of private and public mental health services, we can solve the crisis in our mental health system.


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