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Southwest, Central Virginia authorities call on state to improve broken mental health system

Agencies want to change the way mental health calls are handled

Top cops from all across Southwest and Central Virginia are sounding the alarm about issues with the mental health system leading to big challenges for law enforcement.

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. – Top cops from all across Southwest and Central Virginia are sounding the alarm about issues with the mental health system, leading to big challenges for law enforcement.

“This system is broken,” said Montgomery County Sheriff Hank Partin.

In a show of solidarity, representatives from eight local law enforcement agencies came together Wednesday afternoon to voice their frustrations over what they call failures in the mental health system and call on the state to take action. Sheriff’s offices in Montgomery County, Floyd County, Campbell County, Bedford County, Amherst County and Roanoke County and police departments in Christiansburg and Blacksburg were all represented.

“The folks that are in crisis that need help, they’re not receiving that help,” Partin said.

A multi-agency effort is underway to change the way mental health calls are handled.

“The immediate crisis of a mental health crisis is sometimes short-lived. This is the second crisis,” said Blacksburg Police Chief Anthony Wilson.

That second crisis happens when officers try to take people to get much-need treatment, but there’s nowhere for them to go. Hospitals without enough bed space refuse to accept patients. Officers are then required to sit with the patient indefinitely and sometimes transport them across the state.

“I can’t tell you how bad that is. I actually cannot describe to you what that does to us,” Partin said.

This painstaking process happens regularly at departments all across the commonwealth, leading to huge staffing challenges. But those problems pale in comparison to the challenges for people in crisis.

“They’re spending up to two, three, four days in the emergency room with a law enforcement officer with handcuffs on and you tell me how that is beneficial to a mental health client,” Christiansburg Police Chief Mark Sisson said.

Now, they’re calling on the Department of Behavioral Health and the General Assembly to make changes by addressing bed space, mental health services and transport options.

That’s something they’ve done before, but they’re hoping their collective voices this time around will make a difference for people in need.


About the Author:

Jessica anchors 10 News on Saturdays and Sundays at 6 and 11 p.m. You can also catch her reporting during the week.