(3-31-17) My good friend and long time mental health advocate, Betsy Greer, is outraged that an Arlington, Virginia hospital is reportedly turning away 57% of individuals who need psychiatric services but wants Arlington county officials to offer it land to expand so it can build 100 profit-generating surgical beds without improving psychiatric patients’ needs. While this story focuses on a wealthy Washington D.C. suburb, it is not unique as more and more hospitals strive to grow fat while bypassing mental health. Betsy tells me that on Monday, April 3, advocates will be pleading their case at a 7:30 p.m. meeting at the Health Systems Agency of Northern Virginia, 3040 Williams Drive, Room 200, Fairfax, Va.
ARLINGTON VIRGINIA ADVOCATES FIGHT FOR LOCAL HOSPITAL MENTAL HEALTH SERVICE
By Betsy Greer
A newly created group is asking Arlington county officials to make the sale or swap of 5.5 acres of prime Arlington county property to the Virginia Hospital Center (VHC) conditional on that hospital improving its emergency room and psychiatric ward services for individuals with mental illnesses.
“Too many Arlington residents have been turned away from VHC due to a shortage of beds or because they don’t treat minors,” said Naomi Verdugo, one of the organizers of the Arlington Mental Health Alliance. “This requires them to travel all over the state for psychiatric hospitalization, far from their families who should be part of their treatment. Arlington residents deserve better from their community hospital.”
For the advocates, it is a fight between them and Goliath, an independent, not-for-profit hospital operated like a well-heeled corporation, which in 2014 had more than $600 million invested in securities, excess revenue of more than $60 million over expenses. It is coming at the time VHC is requesting state approval for licensure for 100 new medical and surgical beds, but NONE for patients with mental illness.
VHC’s own 2014 Community Health Needs Assessment, gained from a survey of community stakeholders, listed mental health conditions and depression as the two most important health concerns, ahead of adult obesity, diabetes and substance and alcohol use!
‘There are a number of reasons why it is important for the Virginia Hospital Center to respond positively to the requests made by us and the Arlington Community Services Board (CSB), which provides mental health services in our county,” said Anne M. Hermann, chair of the Arlington CSB. “This is a community hospital and the beds they have are not nearly enough to cover the need. This shortage is demonstrated by the frequency with which Arlingtonians experiencing a mental health emergency are turned away from VHC and sent elsewhere in the Commonwealth, sometimes quite some distance.”
A primary CSB request is that VHC commit to a minimum of 15 additional single-occupancy adult psychiatric rooms and commit to opening additional psychiatric beds to meet demand when a compelling need is demonstrated. VHC uses only 35 of its currently 40 licensed behavioral health beds, 17 for substance abuse treatment. The remaining 18 beds reserved for those needing stabilization for a mental illness crisis are in double rooms which restricts use unless a new patient is of the same sex and deemed stable enough to share a space. (Ironically, VHC markets itself as the only area hospital offering private rooms.)