Local police chiefs are again calling for a change in Virginia’s mental health system

Chesterfield County, Virginia (WRIC) – The Chesterfield County Police Chief draws attention to the mental health system and how it affects the police.

Jeffrey Katz, Chesterfield County Police Chief, posted on Facebook a photo of a long line of law enforcement vehicles near Chippenham Hospital on Thursday night. All the cars had staff transporting mentally ill patients to medical staff. Katz said some of the patients were children.

He said officers sometimes need 10 hours to transfer patients from custody to medics.

The report said: “Our mental health system, which employs many wonderful people, is so fundamentally broken that it is better not to allow police officers to go outside than to provide timely assistance to people in crisis.”

Julian Walker, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Hospital Health Association, said demand for mental health treatment had risen in the midst of a pandemic and continued to grow.

“State psychiatric institutions for adults were forced to stop accepting new patients because they had limited opportunities and staffing problems,” he said. “This, of course, also affects private hospitals and creates a ripple effect for other public safety actors.”

Katz said the ripple effect could also affect social services and law enforcement.

Prince George County Police Chief Keith Earley said in a post on Katz on social media, saying his staff spent about 525 hours answering calls related to mental health in 2021.

“Often people who are experiencing a mental health crisis, sometimes their first contact with the system is through a law enforcement officer,” Walker said.

According to Walker, major problems with staffing and overcrowding in Virginia’s mental institutions existed until 2020 and 2021, but the pandemic exacerbated them.

“Many stakeholders who continue to invest in the system are in favor of continuing efforts to reform the system so that we can provide patients with appropriate care in the right conditions at the right time,” he said.

This year’s budget legislation on the financing of mental health is awaiting consideration by the General Assembly.

“Now it continues to invest a significant portion of its available resources in the government system,” Walker said.

The legislation offered millions of dollars to public mental health facilities and mental health workers.

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