2023 could bring long-term mental health solutions to Virginia

Published: Dec. 29, 2022 at 4:16 PM EST
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Some lawmakers in the commonwealth are getting a head start on their goals and resolutions for the new year.

25th District Senator Creigh Deeds (D) says 2023 needs to be the year of long-term mental health solutions.

“This issue is too critical for too many people. We want to give people the best opportunity they can live productive lives,” the senator said.

Sen. Deeds advocates for mental health support each year in the General Assembly. It’s personal for him, after losing his son to suicide in 2014 after a mental health crisis.

Deeds says Virginia needs to actually see some change, which could start with community support programs.

“We’ve got a 28% vacancy rate at the CSPs,” Deeds said.

He says we need a rebound from 2022, as we lost about $100 million in compensation for employees between the time the Senate budget was released and the time a conference report was passed.

“Whole programs, including here at Region Ten, have shut down because we just don’t have the personnel to provide the services. We’ve got to focus on rebuilding the workforce that begins with pay but it also begins with training,” Deeds said.

The senator says these are things he will push for as he carries bills in the General Assembly in January. He is putting an emphasis on the pay and staffing our community support programs so employees can be engaged and help those in need.

Deeds says he is feeling some encouragement with Governor Glenn Youngkin’s proposal to invest more in mental health programs following the tragedy at UVA in the fall.

“This is an opportunity to kind of get all the components of the process, the continuum of care, right. And to begin that process, it’s not going to be a one-year fix, it’ll be a multi-year fix, but we can really get started this year,” John Littel, the governor’s Secretary of Health and Human Resources, said.

Littel says that could be a focus on mobile health units, though Deeds wants more than that. Both ultimately say mental health is a bipartisan issue.

Littel says mental health has always been a priority and a crisis, but the pandemic exacerbated that even more. He says we saw that impact heavily in 2022, which is why real solutions are needed in this upcoming year.

“Last year, we had over 2,600 people die from overdoses, which is more than gun violence and motor vehicle accidents. So, the number-one non-natural cause of death, and that six years in a row. So, it’s a real opportunity for us to think about how we address that,” Littel said.

He says Deeds has been a leader through all of this, who says progress could come to fruition this year because of new support.

“We’ve been working on it for years, but now we might have critical mass,” Deeds said.

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