Northam commits funds for behavioral health

Published 9:57 am Thursday, August 5, 2021

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Gov. Ralph Northam recently announced the commonwealth will commit $485 million in federal and state funding to address pressing challenges in Virginia’s behavioral health system.

The plan includes targeted investments to alleviate pressure on state mental health hospitals, strengthen community-based services and increase support for substance abuse treatment and prevention programs.

The governor made the announcement at the Arlington County Community Services Board and was joined by Senator Adam Ebbin and Delegates Mark Sickles, Patrick Hope and Alfonso Lopez for a tour of the Crisis Intervention Center and a roundtable with behavioral health leaders.

The announcement is part of “Investment Week,” during which the governor and legislative leaders are highlighting proposals for allocating the $4.3 billion in American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding available to the commonwealth in advance of the Monday, Aug. 2, special session.

“Every Virginian should have access to the behavioral health care and treatment they need, either in their home communities or in a state-operated facility,” Northam said. “The pandemic has led to increases in depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, and other mental health issues in Virginia and across the country, which has added to the strain on our behavioral health system and the valued people who work within it. This funding package is a down payment that will significantly increase support for our state hospitals, community-based providers and substance abuse prevention and treatment programs so they can best help those who rely on their services.”

The governor’s plan solidifies the commonwealth’s ongoing commitment to increasing access to community-based services and ensuring the safety of staff and patients in Virginia’s 12 state hospitals and centers. Additional capital investments will support improvements to state facility infrastructure, including water treatment, ventilation, and sewer systems.

“COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on both the mental and physical health of Virginians,” Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey, MD, MHCM said. “These investments will mean Virginians will receive the care they need in the communities where they live.”

The $485 million investment includes state funding as well as federal dollars from the ARP and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act and is broadly focused on three areas—state mental hospitals, community-based services and opioid and substance abuse treatment.

Virginia’s mental health hospitals have faced high census levels for a number of years, and the pandemic has made the situation more challenging. The funding package has nearly $200 million for staffing at state behavioral health facilities and intellectual disability training centers. This includes $45 million to continue staff bonuses and an additional $154 million in the two-year budget Governor Northam will submit in December for salary adjustments.

“These measures outline a significant step towards ensuring state hospitals remain operational for the immediate and foreseeable future,” Delegate Mark Sickles, chair of the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee, said. “We have to take action now to address these critical issues.”

The funding proposal also includes $150 million to increase access to community-based crisis services and child and family support services, and provide dispatcher training for the Marcus Alert program, a new statewide mental health alert system designed to ensure behavioral health experts are involved in responding to individuals in crisis. An additional $5 million dollars will be dedicated to providing permanent supportive housing in Northern Virginia to assist with bed shortages.

The plan also allocates $103 million for opioid and substance abuse treatment services. In 2020, Virginia saw nearly 2,300 overdose deaths, a 41% increase from the previous year, and the 2021 number is projected to be even higher. This funding will support community-based prevention, peer counseling and harm reduction services.