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State should consider pay increases to mental health workers, report finds

Va. Dept. of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services
A map of Virginia's community service boards

Amidst an ongoing mental health crisis, Virginia’s community services boards often serve as a front-line response. Lawmakers will consider how to update the system this upcoming legislative session.

Community service boards provide mental health and substance abuse services. State researchers say the system does help Virginians who are struggling regain some functionality in their day to day lives – so the system isn’t in need of full restructuring.

However those local mental health agencies are having trouble hiring and retaining critical staff, including counselors and social workers.

“One of the most common reasons for turnover that was cited by both (community service board) executive directors and CSB staff was compensation,” says state researcher, Drew Dickinson. He told lawmakers this week that low pay contributes to long wait times for mental health services.

“Including an inability for most CSB’s to provide same day assessments to all consumers on the same day they’re sought,” he said.

Democratic Senator Janet Howell seemed hopeful there was room for bipartisan cooperation on the issue of increased funding.

“Governor Youngkin has indicated that mental health services will be a priority of his,” Howell said during a meeting of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission. “Mental health is going to be my top priority.”

The state’s research agency recommends pay increases as well as more state oversight of the community services boards. Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin is expected to announce a more detailed mental health plan soon.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Mallory Noe-Payne is Radio IQ's Richmond reporter and bureau chief.