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Western State Hospital reopens on limited basis

Published: Oct. 27, 2021 at 6:03 PM EDT
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STAUNTON, Va. (WHSV) - Back in July, the Department of Behavior Health and Developmental Services closed five of Virginia’s eight adult state hospitals to new admissions. One of the hospitals was Western State Hospital in Staunton.

Following the hospital closing its doors, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says they’ve seen growing numbers of younger patients, but also a lot more people reaching out looking to help.

While the mental health crisis is nothing new, the pandemic highlighted some issues within the mental health system.

“I think the pandemic brought to light that there’s not a living wage. In order to keep good people, you’ve got to pay good people,” Renee Hall, President of the Central Shenandoah Valley Chapter of NAMI, said.

One of the main reasons Western State closed to new admissions is because it was not adequately staffed.

As a result, wait times in emergency departments increased dramatically.

“And the jail systems are overwrought, and a lot of, we’re not talking about this in the community, but a lot of increase within domestic violence cases. There’s a lot of people just staying home, so increase in suicides,” Hall said.

Hall says telehealth has been a great tool she hopes to see stick around post pandemic.

And while we have come a long way in mental health care, she says we’ve got to go further.

“Funding needs to be there to pay the lowest workers a living wage and on up, and educate those workers,” Hall said.

She adds that we also have to break the stigma around mental health and know it’s okay to ask for help and to receive it.

“If we were to own our own mental health and model for others, we would then have the potential to change our community and change the stigma,” Hall said.

DBHDS has since been able to reopen all five hospitals on a limited “one discharge to one admission” basis.

They say staffing levels are not perfect, but are far safer than they were three months ago.

Western State is operating at 72 percent of its capacity, with vacancy rates at 50 percent of direct care staff and around 30 percent of contract staff.

DBHDS says they worked with partners across the state to safely reopen hospitals:

  • State hospital and community services board (CSB) staff worked together to facilitate safe discharges for existing patients,
  • DBHDS and facility staff increased already aggressive recruiting and retention efforts,
  • Many private providers developed and opened step-down beds for state patients,
  • The Governor and General Assembly approved ARPA dollars for state hospital direct care staff bonuses and other efforts to reduce the state hospital census,
  • Law enforcement worked extremely hard to ensure safety for patients who were under temporary detention orders as they waited, at times for hours or days, for an available private or state bed.

NAMI offers resources and can help connect you to several support groups that can be done on Zoom.

They will also be starting back up their community meeting, which is open to everyone, and every Tuesday of every month, NAMI will be hosting a Connections group on Zoom.

“Mental Health is not a one-size-fits-all. We need to be able to find our own recovery and our own support systems, and we need to be able to offer support to many different people,” Hall said.

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