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Local agencies react to temporary pause in admissions at some state mental health facilities

Published: Jul. 12, 2021 at 6:04 PM EDT
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ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) - Five of Virginia’s eight mental health facilities will temporarily stop accepting admissions.

According to the state, there is not enough staff to take in more patients at those locations right now.

In a statement released Friday, the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services said there are 1,547 vacancies throughout its facilities with 108 people resigning within the last two weeks.

According to the department, workers said they were leaving because of the mandated work hours and lack of safety.

One of the facilities reducing its bed capacity and temporarily closing admissions is the Catawba Hospital in Roanoke County.

“The hospitals have been at or near capacity for a long time,” Virginia’s 25th District Senator Creigh Deeds said. “But it puts an exclamation mark on the problem.”

The issue is not new, but now it is hopefully at the forefront of everyone’s minds, Deeds said.

“We have the responsibility to step up and get things done,” he said.

Deeds expects to address the issue during the General Assembly special session next month.

Agencies like the Roanoke County Police Department hope to see a clear plan moving forward.

Chief Howard Hall said his department has been responding to more mental health calls with nearly 200 emergency custody orders since the beginning of the year.

In that same time last year, there were 126 ECOs and in 2019 there were 148. On average the Roanoke County Police Department responds to 270 ECOs a year.

“So when five close to admissions, where are these folks supposed to go,” Hall asked.

If there are no beds available in the state between private and public facilities, people in crisis could be released, Hall said.

“We all have those concerns that when someone doesn’t get the intervention they need, worse things can happen,” Hall said.

Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare works with agencies like the Roanoke County Police Department to help patients.

The organization said fewer state beds will add more stress to its staff, but, more importantly, would also impact those in need.

“For people in a mental health crisis, the last thing they need is for us not to be able to find a place to get them the treatment they need,” CEO Debbie Bonniwell said.

Bonniwell said she wants to make it clear that despite the challenges, there are other resources they will use to make sure patients stay safe. She wants people to know there is support for them, and they should reach out if they need it.

The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services did not return calls for comment Monday.

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