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Push for Easier Access to Mental Health Care Fails in General Assembly


Lawmakers in Richmond are not moving forward with an effort to expand the number of psychiatric beds in Virginia. Michael Pope has the story.


Robert Johnson of Woodbridge understands the mental health crisis from a personal perspective.

Back in 2011, he was struggling with a serious bought of depression and ended up handcuffed to an emergency room bed for nine hours. That’s because no psychiatric beds were available in Prince William County. So he had to wait for one in Fairfax. 

“Think of a horse drawn carriage, and the nearest hospital is 20 miles away and you’re riding over speed bumps," says Johnson. "That’s what I’m going through emotionally. That’s the kind of pain that I’m feeling handcuffed to that bed.”

Learn More: Reforming Mental Healthcare in the Commonwealth

Johnson presented his story to lawmakers and asked them to support a bill introduced by Republican Delegate Peter Farrell of Henrico that would remove barriers to open new beds. 

But lobbyists for hospitals opposed the bill because they were concerned about making changes to the system. Farrell says he’s frustrated people in need won’t get help because hospitals are concerned about their bottom line. 

“I don’t think they want anything to go anywhere because they don’t want things to change. They enjoy having their cake and eating it too,” says Farrell.

Lawmakers ended up voting to study the issue more, but Farrell says it’s been studied enough. He calls the effort to move it back to a study committee a “Brooks Brothers lobbying tactic,” killing a bill by resigning it to more investigation.