RICHMOND, Va. -- Governor Northam has issued an executive order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at Virginia’s state-operated psychiatric hospitals.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Virginia's psychiatric hospital system averaged 95 percent or more of total bed capacity. In July, some hospitals exceeded bed capacity.
The need to isolate or quarantine patients with confirmed or suspected diagnoses of COVID-19 has placed increased demands on state-operated psychiatric hospitals and further reduced bed capacity, according to Gov. Northam. And when "no other inpatient beds can be identified," The Code of Virginia requires these facilities to admit patients under emergency custody for a mental health crisis who meet the criteria for temporary detention even if they are past capacity.
Executive Order 70 directs that when state hospitals are operating at 100 percent of their total bed capacity, they will not serve as the facility of temporary detention for individuals who are not under emergency custody.
The order encourages law enforcement to ensure a bed is available before taking a new admission to a state hospital and requires a medical screening for COVID-19 and other acute medical conditions before transferring a patient to a state hospital. The executive order also requires timely updating of the statewide acute psychiatric bed registry and establishes clear expectations for communication regarding state hospital discharges.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has created significant challenges for Virginia’s psychiatric hospitals and the individuals in crisis who rely on their services,” said Governor Northam. “This executive order will help ensure that our Commonwealth can continue to provide high quality behavioral health care and treatment, while protecting the health and safety of patients and staff and mitigating the spread of the virus within these congregate settings.”
Virginia’s state psychiatric hospitals are operated by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS). As of August 17, there were 79 positive cases of COVID-19 in state hospitals, which includes 50 patients and 29 staff members.
There are outbreaks in four of the 12 state hospitals and centers, and three of those hospitals have temporarily stopped taking new admissions based on recommendations from the Virginia Department of Health. These facilities include Piedmont Geriatric Hospital in Burkeville, where admissions are on hold as of July 14; Southern Virginia Mental Health Institute in Danville, where admissions are on hold as of July 28); and Northern Virginia Mental Health Institute in Fairfax, where admissions are on hold as of August 13. The fourth facility is designed using separate, small homes that facilitate quarantine so closure is not necessary.
Executive Order 70 will remain in effect throughout the COVID-19 state of emergency. The full text of this executive order is available here [r20.rs6.net].