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Taking on “Streeting”: Standing by Mental Health Patients in Virginia

By Brandy Simpson | June 9, 2011 | One Comment

With massive downsizing in 2008, mental health hospitals across Virginia have found it difficult to recover from budget cuts.  A great number of patients in need of treatment have been turned away as a result.  This act is quickly becoming a trend that is warranting its own name: “streeting”.

In a report released this month, the state Office of Inspector General for Behavioral Health and Developmental Services estimated that approximately two hundred mentally ill patients were turned away from Virginian mental health facilities.  Inspector General G. Douglas Bevalacqua explained in the report that these vulnerable patients posed a risk to not only themselves, but their families and the general public as well.

In the case of Williamsburg’s Eastern State Hospital, the move to a new treatment center cut the number of available hospital beds from 250 to 150. This has resulted in a backup of the system as the hospital cannot discharge patients fast enough to admit new patients.  Consequently, this backup has led to close to forty patients being turned away.

The phenomenon of streeting has reached the Hampton Roads area as well.  In one case, the mother of a 17-year-old, mentally ill daughter could not get immediate care for her daughter who was having a particularly intense, suicidal episode.  Unfortunately, these cases are becoming more and more common as some patients and their families are refusing treatment as they would be placed in a facility close to two-and-a-half hours away from home.  For a number of Northern Virginia patients, the closest open facility is located in Petersburg.  Additionally, a Staunton facility specializing in children’s mental health was shut down due to budget cuts, leaving only one children’s mental health hospital to serve the entire state.

Virginia must improve upon this current situation.  The main obstacle that these mental health facilities face is funding.  An estimated $2.6 million would help improve upon these treatment centers and programs, opening up more beds for immediate care.  Earlier this year, Gov. Bob McDonnell asked for a budget of $2.4 million, yet the General assembly approved only $1.9 million.  This issue seems to have taken a back seat to other issues, yet these vulnerable patients urgently need the most immediate care.  We should stand by them — and get them off the streets.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of members of the NDP Steering Committee.

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