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Private health facilities concerned about increased demand, stagnant resources for mental healthcare

Published: Jul. 14, 2021 at 6:23 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Mental health professionals in Virginia say we are in a major crisis right now with not enough resources to help patients in need of treatment.

The outcry comes after the state announced it would temporarily stop accepting patients at five of its mental health facilities because of staffing shortages.

“This was a horrific perfect storm,” Dr. Robert Trestman said.

Trestman is the chair of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at Carilion Clinic.

In his facility, they are treating twice as many people now than they were before the pandemic. It’s a trend across the Commonwealth, with demand increasing, but resources appearing to stay stagnant.

“During the pandemic, all the weaknesses in the system were exacerbated,” Trestman said.

There is a backlog of people in the emergency department often in a mental health crisis, limited capacity in inpatient units at these private hospitals, and very few places with availability and resources to address the patients’ needs, according to Trestman.

“When one major part of the system, the state public psychiatric hospitals fail, then everything is at risk and our patients suffer,” he said.

This conversation comes after the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services announced it would temporarily stop accepting patients at five of its facilities due to staffing shortages.

“You know the challenges that exist here have already existed and they will continue to exist,” Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association VP of Communications Julian Walker said.

The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare association represents 26 private health systems throughout the state. Walker said there are staffing shortages across the board in every industry, including in mental health professionals.

“Just like the state is saying it is having staffing issues and they need more resources from the states to augment their operations, the same is true on the private hospital side,” Walker said. “It requires resources for us to help and provide assistance with the challenge the state has.”

The association proposed opening 58 new beds at one of its facilities, if they could acquire sufficient staffing. That request would come with a cost of almost $8.5 million to make it a reality.

Carilion Clinic says it is doing what it can to address the issue but they themselves can only add so much.

“I’m frustrated, anxious and scared for the outcome of patients because we know what we need to do, we are trained to do it, but we don’t have the ability to deliver the care people need,” Trestman said.

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