5 Virginia mental health facilities shrink capacity, halt new admissions

The commissioner of behavioral health and developmental services in Virginia has ordered five of the Commonwealth’s eight adult state mental health hospitals to decrease capacity and temporarily stop admissions.

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The Northern Virginia Mental Health Institute is not one of the hospital that Commissioner Allison Land ordered to reduce capacity, but they are closely monitoring the number of patients and staff.

The order arrived amid an influx of patients, as well as a staff shortage.

In a letter, the commissioner wrote that the state’s facilities have seen a 392% increase in admissions since 2013, and there have been 63 serious injuries to staff since July.

The uptick in violence has taken a toll on staff – with many quitting for better paying and less stressful opportunities, despite the state increasing salaries and implementing retention plans.

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Currently, there are 1,547 staff openings across the eight state facilities.

The move has law enforcement concerned. Dana Schrad of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police and Foundation says officers are often tasked with finding beds for psychiatric patients after responding to calls – and now many of them will be forced to release these patients, who could be a danger to themselves and the public.

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"One of the reasons this really concerns law enforcement is that people who are in mental health crisis, who cannot get into treatment services and there is no place to take them end up having to be released at a time when they are in most need of help. Often times these folks become violent and it ends up being situation where they act out and they either end up in the criminal justice system or they end up hurt," Schrad said.

According to Schrad, private hospitals are also seeing an influx, and often times they deny patients who are too violent.

She says the state needs to invest more resources in mental health services.