Youngkin calls for revolution in mental health care

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has unveiled a $230 million plan to overhaul the state’s behavioral health care system.

Youngkin told an audience in Richmond on Wednesday that so much change is needed to meet the demand for care, that Virginia needs a “revolution,” not an evolution in mental health services.

“The behavioral health crisis is not unique to Virginia, but let’s be clear, here in Virginia, we are in a crisis,” Youngkin said.

The governor said the new funding will boost services for adults and children facing issues of behavioral health and substance abuse.

“Our jails, emergency rooms and hospitals are filled with people in mental health or substance abuse crises. Law enforcement is overwhelmed, our teachers are burnt out, our health care heroes are at their wits end, parents and families feel lost and alone, and too many Virginians are afraid,” Youngkin said.

The first step in the governor’s 3-year plan is to boost same-day care for people experiencing behavioral health crises.

He’s requesting $20 million dollars in the next budget to deploy more than 30 new mobile crisis teams across the state that would respond to emergency calls. He also will ask the General Assembly to approve $58 million to expand the number of crisis receiving centers in the state.

These are places where people in mental health crisis can immediately go instead of hospital emergency rooms or county jails, where many wind up when their situation prompts a law enforcement response.

The governor identified 6 goals of his plan to expand mental health services:

  • Striving to ensure same-day care for people experiencing a mental health crisis
  • Relieving the burden on law enforcement and reducing the criminalization of mental health
  • Develop more capacity beyond hospitals
  • Provide targeted support for substance use disorder and efforts to prevent overdose
  • Prioritize behavioral health workforce, particularly in underserved communities
  • Identify innovations and best practices in pre-crisis prevention service, crisis care, recovery and support

“We face a level of mental health and substance use issues never seen before, all too often resulting in violence, suicide and murder,” Youngkin said, pointing to recent shootings at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and in the city of Chesapeake.

The governor’s plan also calls for $15 million to expand elementary, middle and high school-based mental health services, and $8 million to expand housing for patients with serious mental illness.

“We must make a difference in the lives of countless Virginians, and it must start now,” Youngkin said.