Virginia halting admissions at five mental hospitals due to staffing crisis

Catawba Hospital is one of the five mental hospitals impacted

Virginia is halting admission to five mental hospitals in the state, including Catawba Hospital.

LYNCHBURG, Va. – Virginia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services announced it closed admissions to five of the Commonwealth’s eight adult hospitals temporarily.

They are: Central State, Eastern State, Piedmont Geriatric, Western State and Catawba Hospitals.

Martha Hooker represents the Catawba area on the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors.

“It’s a care that needs to be delivered and give these people the dignity that they deserve in getting better,” Hooker.

The DBHDS says it’s due to a staffing shortage.

Of the 5,500 positions statewide, there are more than 1,500 vacancies, including 108 new resignations in the last two weeks.

Since July first, 63 patients and employees have been injured at the state’s mental health hospitals because of the shortage.

“We need to make sure that we’re taking good care of our staff. Let’s make sure that they’re being paid what they deserve and get the training that they need, get the support that they need,” said Hooker.

The closures also impact police departments.

Lynchburg Police Chief Ryan Zuidema says law enforcement is not equipped to treat patients properly, so in many cases, they take the patient into custody under an Emergency Custody Order.

“That gives us up to eight hours to hold that person while mental health professionals can evaluate them to determine if there’s a need for further mental health treatment. If there is, usually a TDO is issued, or a Temporary Detention Order, that then requires us to transport them anywhere in the commonwealth to get that treatment. And a lot of times, we’re waiting for hours or, in some cases, days for beds to open up,” said Zuidema.

He says the closures force officers to wait longer, putting communities at risk.

“[Officers are] going to be transporting [patients] further distances. In doing that, that takes our officers away from our community for longer periods of time. They’re not here and available to provide law enforcement services,” said Zuidema.

The DBHDS says they’re reducing the number of patients through attrition, rather than discharge.

A spokesperson tells 10 News, “we are working diligently to find solutions to improve staff to patient ratios and plan to reopen beds incrementally as staffing levels improve.”

About the Author:

Tim Harfmann joined the 10 News team in September 2020 and works at the station's Lynchburg bureau.