Virginia lawmakers focus on help for mental health system

Staffing shortages causing a strain on mental health facilities and workers

The shortage of behavioral health professionals in Virginia is putting a strain on the health care system. Del. Sam Rasoul said the pandemic made the situation worse.

“We have decades of underfunding in mental health across Virginia and here in the Roanoke Valley. And that was extremely exacerbated by what happened over the course of COVID, so now we have a lot of catching up to do,” Rasoul said.

The thinned workforce is impacting how many patients are admitted and how quickly. Sen. Creigh Deeds said with less people in the business, it puts even more stress on those who are working.

“Working in a psychiatric hospital is tough work anyway. There are assaults nearly every single day, somewhere in the system. Some of them pretty severe, against other patients or against employees,” Deeds said.

Lawmakers said the compensation is not as high as it should be and it’s something they’re working to improve.

“The Virginia state behavioral health pay is at the 10th percentile across the country. It’s so low. So what we did is increase that to 50%, I was hoping we’d get that to 75% but there is going to be somewhat of a boost,” explained Rasoul.

While increased pay and incentives to enter the field are in the works, there’s also an emphasis on preventative measures.

“We need to invest more money into community services so we can keep a robust array of services throughout Virginia and keep people out of crisis and keep them out of the hospital,” Deeds said.

About the Author:

Alyssa Rae grew up in Roanoke and graduated from Virginia Tech. An avid sports fan, she spent her first 8 years in TV as a sports anchor and reporter.