According to a recent Richmond Times-Dispatch article, state-run mental hospitals are projected to overflow by 2024, without action by the Virginia General Assembly. Specifically, the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) projects there will be about 40 more people in need of residential treatment than spaces to accommodate them, based on a two percent annual increase in volume.
Currently, if private hospitals want to expand their mental health services they must obtain approval by the Department of Health through the Certificate of Public Need (COPN) process. This lengthy and costly process effectively limits the number of psychiatric beds available to help those in need of critical mental health services. In fact, since 2011 over 150 number of beds have been denied by the Department of Health. In 2014, a 75-bed psychiatric hospital was denied a COPN and not allowed to open their facility in Prince William County, despite overwhelming community support. Given that most mental health facilities are nearly at full capacity, it is unfortunate that regulations geared to limit competition between health care providers now prevent facilities from expanding these critical services.
Increasing access to mental health services has been a top issue for the legislature to address. That’s why Delegate Peter Farrell (R-Henrico) and Senator Glen Sturtevant (R-Chesterfield) introduced legislation during the 2017 General Assembly Session to help address the problem. HB 1420 and SB 1141 would have repealed the requirement for a certificate of public need (COPN) for certain projects involving mental hospitals or psychiatric hospitals and intermediate care facilities established primarily for the medical, psychiatric, or psychological treatment and rehabilitation of individuals with substance abuse. This legislation overwhelmingly passed the House with strong bipartisan support, but it was left in the Senate Committee on Education and Health without any action taken. The bill failed to make it out of committee because of powerful lobbying efforts by those opposed to any reform to the COPN process. Not even this modest proposal to increase access to critical mental health and substance abuse services was allowed to go forward.
This alarming report by DBHDS renews the call to reform COPN here in the Commonwealth. Virginians who suffer from mental illnesses need immediate access to quality care and shouldn’t suffer because of an outdated regulatory process. Senator Emmett Hanger is right, the legislature should “be prepared to take the aggressive actions that need to be taken.” Let your legislator know that COPN needs to be repealed for mental and psychiatric hospitals. It’s time to take action this session to increase access to these critical services.