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For Immediate Release:  June 13, 2011

Hazel: Substantial progress in state mental-health system

OP/Ed By HHR Secretary William A. Hazel

Published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, June 13, 2011

 

Recently, this newspaper ran an editorial regarding mental-health reform efforts in the commonwealth. The editorial was based largely on a six-page section of a 39-page report from the state's behavioral-health inspector general. The report discusses a longstanding problem in our mental-health system a lack of access to services. While the report shows the need to continue to examine and improve, it is not a thorough reflection of Virginia's mental-health system or of the substantial progress that has been made, through a bipartisan effort that stretches across gubernatorial administrations and political parties.

Recent years have witnessed substantial progress being made in terms of both awareness of, and commitment to, the need for comprehensive mental-health reform in the commonwealth. While serving in the General Assembly, now-Gov. Bob McDonnell was the chief patron of a bill to restructure and move Virginia's system to a more community-based model so people would avoid costly admissions to institutions and be able to stay safely in their own communities. After the tragedy at Virginia Tech, then-Gov. Tim Kaine improved emergency and outpatient services and case management.

The months after the Virginia Tech tragedy also featured a concerted effort by then-Attorney General McDonnell, Kaine, the General Assembly and the Virginia Supreme Court to put in place major reforms to the mental-health system and the civil-commitment procedure in the commonwealth. The current attorney general, then-state Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, was a leader in this effort. The fact is, mental-health reform of a sweeping and positive nature has been achieved in Virginia through bipartisan cooperation and a shared commitment among public officials to improve the system in the state. The reform effort is ongoing.

As governor, McDonnell is continuing to make critical improvements to the mental-health system. Over the first 16 months of our administration, many important steps have been taken toward identifying and enacting the broader solution needed for this issue.

State oversight of public hospital and community programs has been bolstered through expansions of audit programs and licensing staff at the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services. The leadership at three of Virginia's eight adult mental-health facilities has been changed. All five of the state psychiatric hospitals that are accredited by the Joint Commission received very positive surveys. Major building projects are under way or have been completed at Eastern State Hospital and Western State Hospital to replace aging, costly-to-operate buildings with designs that promote modern treatment and recovery.

Virginia is working to deliver high-quality mental-health services to as many of our citizens as possible. The commonwealth has just over 1,250 state psychiatric hospital beds, and last year 40 community services boards served more than 147,000 people with behavioral-health needs.

This past legislative session, McDonnell proposed and the General Assembly funded a multitude of expansions in community-based services for the behavioral-health and developmental-services system, including $5 million to create crisis-intervention services for those with co-occurring intellectual disability and behavioral disorders, $2 million to expand behavioral-health crisis-stabilization beds statewide and $1.9 million to increase mental-health services in the Tidewater region. This "down payment" will help Virginia continue to transition from a largely institutional-based system to one that brings much-needed services directly to people where they live.

McDonnell also successfully championed a $30 million investment in a trust fund to facilitate community-based care for Virginians with intellectual and developmental disabilities, allowing them the opportunity to receive high-quality care in the most appropriate, integrated setting.

McDonnell and leaders in the General Assembly understand that reforming Virginia's complicated mental-health system cannot happen in one legislative session. It will take the kind of focused effort that has been under way for the past few years in Virginia. That effort will continue in the years ahead.

We have made progress on this critically important issue. Virginians facing mental-health issues deserve to receive the care and treatment they need in the setting most conducive to their quality of life. Achieving that goal is the objective of all involved in this issue. While there are no quick fixes, we will continue our ongoing work to care for our most vulnerable citizens.

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