Waiting On The Sidelines To Fix An Obvious Flaw: Welcome To Mental Health In Virginia


A family friend spent two days waiting in Fairfax County recently for mental health officials to find a crisis care bed for her adult child.

Two days waiting in one of the wealthiest counties in America because there were no beds!

The former head of the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Service Board said that Fairfax County sends an average of two hundred persons having a mental health crisis to other counties each year because there are not enough crisis beds available in Northern Virginia.

State Sen. Creigh Deeds was refused help when his son was psychotic because there were no beds available to him locally in rural Virginia  and a state worker dropped the ball looking at hospitals further away. A panel of experts testified earlier this month on Capitol Hill that there is a shortage of hospital beds nationally. One of those experts said a state should have 50 beds available for every 100,000 residents. Virginia averages 22 beds.

Yet, Virginia Interim Health Commissioner Dr. Marissa Levine   denied a request recently from a company that wanted to build a 75-bed crisis care treatment facility in Woodbridge, Virginia, just down the road from Fairfax. More than two thousand residents had signed a petition supporting it and Cynthia Dudley, who runs a Woodbridge mental health drop in center, said the hospital beds were “desperately needed.”

Dr. Levine called building a hospital “premature.”

Premature? After everything that has happened in Virginia?

In a written statement, she explained that after Sen. Deeds was attacked by his son, who later killed himself, Virginia’s governor appointed a task force to figure out what’s wrong with mental health services in Virginia. Dr. Levine said she wanted to wait to hear that task force’s recommendations  in October before taking action.

Two years ago, Inspector General Douglas G. Bevelacqua warned state mental health officials that emergency workers at one Virginia hospital were turning away patients who were in the midst of a psychiatric breakdown because there were no beds available. It had become so common that the hospital had developed slang for it: streeting.

To their shame, state mental health officials didn’t do anything to fix that problem. After the Deeds’ family tragedy, Bevelacqua claims state officials tried to cover up their lack of response. Had they acted, he claims the Deeds’s case never would have happened.

Was Dr. Levine’s action a prudent one taken so the state can finally put together a cohesive plan or was this just another incident of footdragging?

While we are waiting for an answer, how many families, such as Sen. Deeds, will be turned away during a psychiatric crisis?

Oh, one more question. What will this task force find that will be markedly different from the findings of  the previous sixteen task forces that have been appointed to study Virginia’s mental health system?


About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.