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Changes to Virginia's behavioral health system will be a major focus of this year's session

Steve Helber

Lawmakers will return to Richmond Wednesday, where they will be debating hundreds of bills. One issue that is likely to be central to the General Assembly session is transforming Virginia's behavioral health system.

Governor Glenn Youngkin says Virginia needs to take a crisis-first approach to transforming the behavioral health system.

"We must strive to ensure same-day care for individuals experiencing behavioral health crisis — same day," the governor says. "We will redesign Virginia's crisis care by doubling mobile crisis teams, increasing crisis receiving center slots by more than 50% and short-term crisis beds by over 25%."

His proposal, which he calls Right Help Right Now, is a $230 million proposal that has bipartisan support, including from Senator Creigh Deeds of Bath County.

"The whole notion is that you get people services faster. You stabilize them quicker, and they have a better chance for recovery," explains Deeds. "And in doing that, you take pressure off of police departments and sheriff's offices because they don't have to sit in emergency rooms for hours with people waiting on services. You take pressure off the emergency rooms and ultimately if you keep them out of hospitals you take pressure off the hospitals."

Deeds says he thinks the governor is on the right track, although he adds that he wants to make sure vacancies are filled in community services boards and that Medicaid reimbursement rates are high enough that providers are willing to offer services. All of those issues will be up for discussion when the General Assembly gavels into session this week.

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

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.