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Over 200 Virginians Stuck In State Mental Hospitals After OK’d To Leave

Piedmont Geriatric Hospital in Burkeville, Virginia is one of nine state psychiatric facilities in the Commonwealth.
Piedmont Geriatric Hospital in Burkeville, Virginia is one of nine state psychiatric facilities in the Commonwealth. (Photo:  Megan Pauly/VPM)

A new report from the Disability Law Center of Virginia found over 200 people stuck in a state psychiatric hospital after being cleared to leave. At the end of May, there were 246 people on the state’s Extraordinary Barriers to Discharge List (EBL). 

When a patient in a Virginia psychiatric hospital has been cleared to leave but remains in the hospital for at least two weeks after that, they’re placed on the list. According to the dLCV report, over 100 people were on the list for over three months as of May 31st. Colleen Miller, executive director for the disAbility Law Center of Virginia, says that’s a civil rights violation.

“Under the United States Constitution, the state can hold somebody against their will only if they are a danger to themselves or others,” Miller said. 

In a statement, a spokesperson for Virginia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) said the state has “a professional, ethical and legal obligation to make sure individuals being discharged from an acute psychiatric hospitalization have access to the necessary housing, services, and support they need to facilitate their successful recovery in the community.”

Only in rare circumstances, and after consultation with those familiar with the individual's care and treatment, is a person discharged to a shelter.

Experts say there aren’t many places in the community willing to house and support people after they’ve been discharged from a state psychiatric hospital. “No willing provider” was listed as a primary barrier to discharge for 97 people in May. 

“There's no nursing home, there's no assisted living facility, there's no permanent supportive housing,” Miller said. “There's no community-based program available for that person.”

According to DBHDS, finding a housing situation for patients ready to leave is a real problem. 38 people on the EBL as of May 31st were in need of a nursing home, while 42 needed an assisted-living facility. 

“I never want anyone to wait in the hospital for longer than they need to,” said Daniel Herr, deputy commissioner for facility services with DBHDS. 

Herr points to added staff he hopes will help ease the issue. This year, the General Assembly approved over $67 million for fiscal year 2019 and 2020 combined in discharge assistance funding to help people transition out of the hospital. 

Virginia has historically relied heavily on assisted-living facilities that accept state-funded subsidies to house people with mental illness. In recent years, however, lawmakers have started to invest more in the evidence-based permanent supportive housing model, which Miller says is ideal. 

“The solution really for cost purposes, for humanitarian purposes, for ethical purposes is to build a more robust community services system for people with mental illness,” Miller said.