RICHMOND, Va. -- In 2007, the tragedy at Virginia Tech prompted major mental health care reform in Virginia.
The death of a state senator's son, six years later, led to more changes to help those who are facing mental health challenges.
Now in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, data is showing the need for mental health services is greater than ever.
"We saw an increase in the number of patients seeking inpatient care for behavioral health and substance abuse services associated with behavioral health challenges," Julian Walker, the vice president of communications for the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, said. "Beyond that, we also have those trends occurring while you also have significant workforce and staffing challenges."
These challenges led to more than half of Virginia's state-run hospitals temporarily closing last July, leaving private hospitals to provide 90% of the state's mental and behavioral health services.
In response, the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association is launching a new public behavioral health inpatient data dashboard to provide insight and transparency about the volume of inpatient psychiatric hospital care being provided in Virginia.
"What we've said consistently is that there are many patients who need inpatient care, as evidenced by the fact that we're sharing this data on the dashboard. There are tens of thousands of patients in Virginia every year who are receiving inpatient care for psychiatric and behavioral health needs. At the same time, there are patients who need other solutions," Walker said.
Approaching the next General Assembly session, advocates hope that lawmakers will consider looking at funding for other critical needs, such as community-based solutions, intense outpatient treatment services and pilot programs to keep patients from reaching a crisis situation.
The VHHA hopes the dashboard, which shows both voluntary and temporary detention order admissions at both private and public hospitals, will help not only policymakers but also families who are trying to navigate a challenging time.
“To try to come up with strategies and solutions that will get at some of these issues because we know that workforce is a challenge and will continue to be a challenge. We know that Americans are saying their mental health has been more compromised. We know there is a demand for these services, so we collectively have to come up with some ideas and concepts to try and get people the services that they need and meet them where they are," Walker said.