By Malaina Poore
Region 10 Board member Elliott Harding had the idea to bring politicians and community members to talk about mental health. Representatives Steve Landes, Rob Bell, Creigh Deeds and David Toscano were joined by local city council member Kristin Szakos and Dr. Jack Barber, Virginia’s DBHDS Commissioner. Robert Johnson, ED of Region 10, served as moderator. Mr. Johnson will retire this month, which inspired many of us present to thank him for his exceptional, compassionate and progressive service. Approximately 50 people were present, including many local mental health leaders.
Dr. Barber was the first to speak about the standardization of service plan known as STEP VA. “We need change and we need some forward-thinking people,” Barber said. STEP VA places emphasis on community solutions over hospitalization. As anticipated, there were concerns and questions on about how to fund STEP VA measures, such as Same Day Access. According to Barber, “most states spend 3 times as much on community treatment than on hospitalization.” Counties also pay towards community services, but this is wildly different throughout the state. One reason is that some areas in the state just have much more financial resources than others. Same Day Access means that a person will be assessed the same day they first visit a CSB, though they may not get a treatment appointment for weeks. Even this improvement has helped with the “no-show” rate and more people are ultimately being seen.
When asked how Region Ten keeps contact during the time between intake and appointment, they said that they call with an appointment reminder. Elizabeth Irwin from the Women’s Initiative in Charlottesville noted that her agency also refers people to On Our Own (a peer-run center), offers free group sessions and refers women to Partner for Mental Health where they may be paired with a community navigator to help support and potentially access other services.
Landes stated that he fears the current budget cannot even keep up with the status quo. He hopes the GAP program will shift from 80% to 100% to cover all eligible people. (Toscano echoed this refrain: “We need to talk about Medicaid expansion.”) Landes also believes Virginia can save by downsizing facilities or closing and selling old, large, hard-to-maintain facilities like Central State Hospital. He acknowledges this will not be a quick fix.
Both Rob Bell and Creigh Deeds talked about jail diversion, as we know that peers in criminal justice settings would be better served elsewhere. Bell believes diversion wrap around services will also save money in the long run. Deeds said he felt hopeful that diversion methods would help, but there would always be a need for mental health services in jails and prisons, so we should plan accordingly.
Participants commended programs like Crisis Intervention Training. Deeds suggested the training be expanded to include those who work in prisons, parole officers, judges and lawyers in hopes that people who need therapeutic intervention will be recognized and assisted rather than sentenced.