HENRICO COUNTY, Va. — A new youth Crisis Receiving Center, expected to provide 24/7 mental health services to children ages seven to 17 in the region, is coming to Henrico County.
A groundbreaking ceremony Thursday at St. Joseph's Villa marked where the first center of its kind in Central Virginia will be located.
"This gives families a place where they can bring youth to get connected to the right kind of care quickly and not have to be in the emergency room department, which is often really stimulating with lots of noise and people coming and going," Daniel Rigsby, the director of Clinical and Prevention Services at Henrico Area Mental Health and Development Services, said. "This is really designed to be like a living room. Almost like coming home."
The goal is to get patients in and out of the facility in 23 hours or less, preventing families from traveling to already overburdened hospitals.
Emergency room visits for suicidal thoughts, self-harm, or suicide attempts among nine to 18-year-old Virginians more than doubled from 2016 to 2021, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
That influx of patients requiring mental health care may lead to longer wait times for families that need immediate service.
Linda Saltonstall, Senior Director of Clinical Services at St. Joseph's, said in her roughly 30 years of experience, she's noticed sharp increases in emergency room wait times, seeing mental health issues among children and teens exacerbated by the pandemic.
"We get phone calls from the emergency rooms, that say, 'Hey, we've got this family, how can we get them in?'" Saltonstall said. "There's been a need for a while. But it's escalated in more years."
Saltonstall said facilities that can give round-the-clock, immediate care, are few and far in between.
"Families had to wait to access services, that now they're so burnt out that now, they want to give up custody, and that's what happens when you stall services, so the immediacy and the responsiveness is important," she said.
Patients are expected to be seen by a team of mental health professionals for an assessment within the first few hours of arrival. However, when the facility opens, only six children will be able to be served at a time. The number of patients that can be seen at the same time will likely then extend to nine patients after some time.
"It's really about the capacity of the building and us learning. This is a new service," Rigsby said. "We don't have a lot of experience doing it. We wanted to start off small so that we are learning as we're going. And then as we get more comfortable with the service, being able to expand and serve more youth."
If patients still need treatment after 23 hours, Rigsby said they can likely continue to receive services at the Crisis Stabilization Unit on St. Joseph's campus, where they can receive treatment for multiple days.
At the ceremony, state leaders said increasing mental health services for young people in Virginia has garnered bipartisan support among lawmakers.
"In Mental Health of America's annual report in 2023, Virginia was ranked 48th in access to youth mental health services. We fell from 21 before the pandemic, to 48," John Littel, Virginia's Secretary of Health and Human Resources, said. "The importance of these centers cannot be overstated. They're so vital that the governor made them a centerpiece of his 'Right Help, Right Now' initiative for mental health. We've developed a comprehensive goal to bolster mental health services, specific crisis services across the commonwealth, to meet the behavioral health needs of our citizens."
"For last year, there were about 174 youth and families that were served here. That diverted about 93% from hospitalization. The 'so what' to that is, we want to keep our children and our youth in the community so their families can have access to them. That's a critical piece to their wellbeing," said Nelson Smith, Virginia's Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services Commissioner.
The new center is expected to be completed in 2024, with renovations to an existing building on St. Joseph's campus expected to cost $1 million. The project is funded by the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services. Henrico County is facilitating the funding.
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