Virginia police chiefs call mental health system ‘broken’ as five state hospitals suspend admissions

Virginia News

A patient walks on a corridor of the Rouvray psychiatric hospital, in Rouen, western France, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020. Lockdowns that France has used to fight the coronavirus have come at considerable cost to mental health. Surveying points to a surge of depression most acute among people without work, in financial hardship and young adults. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police (VACP) is responding to the suspension of admissions at five of eight state-run mental health hospitals.

The Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) made the announcement about the closures on Friday, July 9.

DBHDS said the decision was driven by severe staffing shortages that are creating dangerous conditions. The agency said there have been 63 reports of serious injuries of staff and patients just since July 1.

“Despite our aggressive recruiting and retention strategies, state hospitals continue to lose staff while admissions continue to rise,” DBHDS commissioner Alison G. Land wrote in Friday’s letter to mental health partners and providers in the state announcing the measures. “It is no longer feasible to operate all state beds in a safe and therapeutic environment.”

The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police said in a statement that this is creating a huge problem for Virginians in need of critical mental health services.

“Law enforcement does not have a viable choice: if an emergency commitment order (ECO)/temporary detention order (TDO) is ordered and there is no psychiatric bed, the only option is street release,” the statement said. “This is not a viable or responsible option for the treatment and care of an individual in mental health crisis.”

The police chiefs organization said it empathized with mental health professionals and institutions facing a great risk with the growing number of violent persons in a mental health crisis. But they said ultimately law enforcement can’t solve that problem.

“The only other secure beds are those in jails,” the statement reads. “And Virginia has made a commitment not to jail the mentally ill. Being mentally ill is not a crime.”

VACP added, “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… Virginia needs and deserves a mental health system that treats people in crisis and keeps them out of the criminal justice system… The mental health system is broken.

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