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Virginia lawmakers seek to fund mental health services: 'Our kids are not OK'

Child advocate: 'Mental health is not a joke. Mental health is not a trend. Mental health is not a hashtag'
covid kids mental health
Posted at 11:09 AM, Jan 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-28 12:30:22-05

RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, addressed the urgency to fund mental health services for the youngest generation.

The advocacy group Voices for Virginia’s Children hosted the virtual press conference on Friday morning.

“We’ve heard from kids around the Commonwealth that they are not OK,” Voices CEO Amy Strite said. “We know the last 22 months have brought additional disruption, trauma, grief and loss.”

Melissa Gilliam, a child advocate, said they need additional help while resources are strained during the pandemic.

“Mental health is not a joke. Mental health is not a trend. Mental health is not a hashtag,” she stated.

Del. Emily Brewer (R-Suffolk) highlighted the shortage of psychiatric providers prior to the start of lockdowns. Only five localities across Virginia had a sufficient supply to service their needs, she said.

“It is time that we address the needs of our children now before they grow and before they spiral out of control,” warned Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond). "Unfortunately, our kids are not okay."

McClellan and Del. Cia Price (D-Newport News) are sponsoring bills that would create a pool of funds for schools to use for clinical level mental health services and a budget amendment to lift the cap on state funding of support personnel.

Chesterfield County may soon see the state’s first recovery high school pilot program. Del. Carrie Coyner (R-Chesterfield) is urging lawmakers to include more than $864,000 in funds in this year's budget.

“What we saw families were having to make tough choices between much needed long term recovery support and graduating on time,” she explained.

Voices for Virginia’s Children provided the following list of proposals lawmakers are seeking to pass during this session of the General Assembly:

School-based mental health integration pilot: This amendment provides $10 million each year from the Department of Behavioral and Developmental Services (DBHDS) to local school divisions to contract for community-based mental health services for students from public or private community-based providers.

Recovery high school pilot: In 2020, the General Assembly approved a bill to begin a recovery high school pilot in Chesterfield County, but put the funding on hold. This amendment provides the funding to jumpstart the pilot as a year-round high school for students residing in Region 1 in the early stages of substance use recovery. This bill provides $864,000 the first year and $890,000 the second year to begin the program

Expand Resources that Integrate Mental Health in Health Care Settings: The Virginia Mental Health Access Program (VMAP) has developed a strong, efficient, and effective model of behavioral health and health integration. Proposed increases will expand training efforts beyond primary care into emergency departments and provide additional expertise to support young children and their families. Governor Northam’s proposed budget includes an additional $2.3 million each year to expand the reach of the program

Workforce Shortages are a Major Barrier to Accessing Services: Former Governor Ralph Northam’s proposed budget provides $3 million in one-time funds for a contract with the Virginia Health Care Foundation to pay for the costs of supervisory hours needed for licensure for individuals seeking advanced degrees in social work or counseling. Senator Barker adds an additional $1 million for this effort (Barker 144#4s). Additional amendments from Senator Deeds and Delegate Davis adds 10 new psychiatry residency slots to allow more providers to enter that specialty (Deeds 304#5s /Davis- 304#39h).

Prioritize Investments in the Mental Health System: Enhance funding for existing services by continuing to support the expansion of STEP-VA and improve Medicaid reimbursement rates for behavioral health services to provide accessible services. Both the public and private mental health providers can serve more children and youth with improved Medicaid reimbursement rates for clinical mental health services.

Medicaid Reimbursement Rate Increases 

• Extend 12.5% increase for home and community-based services (Hanger, Farris, Willett, Adams)

• Increase rates for residential treatment facilities (Davis, Ruff)

• Increase rates for peer and family support services (Hodges, Deeds)

Identify Solutions and Sustain Supports: Study of school-based mental health services by creating a task force of the Behavioral Health Commission to assess current approaches developed at the local level and recommend how the state can support and sustain approaches by maximizing federal funding and integrated with existing public and private community-based services. The task force should make recommendations for how the state can develop and support more integrated student mental health supports. Similar approaches proposed by Senator Dunnavant to study school-based mental health services and proposals to examine school-based health services from Senator Favola, Delegate Robinson and Delegate Bennett-Parker could be incorporated with this approach.