Supervisors and local activists urged Northam (D) and the General Assembly to devote $47 million of American Rescue Plan funds toward building such facilities across the state, arguing that they can help keep people experiencing mental health episodes out of jail or hospital emergency rooms.
“It’s no longer something that we can all ignore,” Ann B. Wheeler (D), the chair of Prince William Board of County Supervisors, said during a news conference sponsored by the Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement, or VOICE.
Virginia’s mental health system has been buckling under a recent rise in cases, including patients with suicidal or violent tendencies requiring involuntary-detention orders.
Earlier this month, the state closed five of its eight adult mental health hospitals to new admissions to protect workers at those facilities from being overwhelmed and potentially harmed.
In recent weeks, 108 such employees have resigned, citing long hours and lack of safety and often leaving for better-paying jobs that are less demanding, state officials have said.
When the General Assembly meets for its special session next month, the Northam administration intends to propose that “a significant amount” of the $4 billion that Virginia will receive in American Rescue Plan funds be dedicated toward beefing up the state’s mental health system, including by offering state workers raises.
On Tuesday, Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky would not address whether community resource centers would be part of that proposal, saying the governor is still working through the details of his plan.
“Gov. Northam has made access to safe, comprehensive mental health care a priority throughout his administration,” Yarmosky said in a statement.
The community resource center under consideration in Prince William would cost $6.4 million to construct and $17.3 million per year for a private contractor to operate, according to a presentation to the county board Tuesday.
County officials and VOICE activists said such a facility would shorten the length of time it takes for someone experiencing a mental health crisis to get treatment in a region where psychiatric beds are in short supply.
Last year, 855 mental health patients in the region under temporary detention orders — nearly half from Prince William — were housed elsewhere in the state, according to Tuesday’s presentation.
In some cases, a police officer responding to such a call can take as long as eight hours to transport individuals to a facility outside Northern Virginia and process them, officials said.
In cases where a hospital bed is not immediately available, it can take as long as 72 hours to receive treatment, with patients who pose risks to themselves and others waiting in handcuffs the whole time, county officials said.
Lynn Stanton-Hoyle, a former pastor at Clifton Presbyterian Church in nearby Fairfax County who was at Tuesday’s news conference, said she was unable to get immediate help three years ago for her then-29-year-old son, because there were no available facilities to house him nearby.
After her son became convinced that a friend was coming to hurt him, he vowed to stab that person, showing how he would do it while pounding on his father’s chest, Stanton-Hoyle said.
The couple called police, who said there would be a delay in responding while they were dealing with more-urgent cases.
“We were terrified over whether he would act in this way, and we were also concerned for our own personal safety,” Stanton-Hoyle said. “Forty-eight hours it took until finally someone was able to come. By that time, our son had calmed down.”
Supervisor Andrea O. Bailey (D-Potomac), who has spearheaded the effort to build a new crisis community center in Prince William, said that without state funding it would probably take until next summer for the county to be able to appropriate the money needed for building such a site.
Meanwhile, she said, the need for such services is only growing.
“The services that we do have are spread out, and it’s just not enough,” Bailey said.