Proposed State Budget Great Opportunity for Mental Health

[Condensed from our opinion column published March 2, 2020 in the Richmond Times Dispatch.]

Virginia ranks 37th out of 51 states and the District of Columbia in terms of ease of access to mental health care. For years Virginia has funded hospital beds at the expense of investing in community-based supportive and preventative care. Lack of appealing and easily accessible community services has created a perverse feedback loop of crises and hospitalizations.

The good news is that the Governor’s proposed biannual budget presents great opportunities for improving Virginia’s mental health system, and proposed amendments strengthen these even more. Additional funding will enable Virginia to:

Build out community based services, including outpatient, mobile crisis, peer and family supports and veteran services in order to provide consistent and comprehensive services across Virginia.

Facilitate prompt release from state hospitals and free up valuable beds by hiring more discharge planners and increasing available discharge assistance planning funds.

Increase Medicaid reimbursement rates to encourage more mental health providers to accept clients with Medicaid.

Increase funding for permanent supportive housing. This evidence-based intervention has been shown to reduce hospitalization and incarceration. The Senate’s proposed budget amendments would expand on this increase to serve more than 1,630 Virginians.

Create a Behavioral Health Loan Repayment Program as an incentive to address the gap in Virginian’s mental health workforce. A Senate amendment would launch this program to increase the workforce in under-served parts of the state.

Redirect care to be closer to home. Amendments in both the House and Senate budgets would provide more incentives for private hospitals to accept individuals under commitment orders, and create pilot programs to alleviate overcrowding at state hospitals.

The General Assembly has the opportunity to improve the Governor’s historic initiative to transform a misaligned and chronically underfunded mental health system. By expanding partnerships to reduce the reliance on state hospitals, and fully funding community mental health supports, Virginia can move from a crisis-driven system to a true continuum of evidence-based care.

Bruce Cruser, Executive Director

Anna Mendez, Board President