More than 200 patients cleared for release are stuck in limbo at state hospitals

Capitol Connection

RICHMOND, Va. — Hundreds of psychiatric patients are stuck in Virginia’s state hospitals when they’ve been cleared for released, according to data from the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.

On May 31, 246 patients were on what is called the “Extraordinary Barriers to Discharge” list, or EBL. A new study released by the Disability Law Center of Virginia reveals that’s the highest number on the list in five years. ​

“Our clients want to go home,” Colleen Miller, the Executive Director of the Disability Law Center of Virginia, said. “They were told that they were hospitalized just to get stabilized and the hospital is now maintaining them and keeping them even though everything is under better control.”

​​But these individuals aren’t going back to their communities right away. They need to have specific treatment and care set up before being discharged, like supervised housing. ​

Miller described this as a “risky situation,” due to concerns about staffing levels and the quality of care for patients still in state facilities. ​​

State officials say staff do all they can to make sure patients are safe and that it takes time to set up the appropriate care following a hospital stay. ​

“If they left before those services were in place, they would be at risk for readmission,” the Deputy Commissioner for Facility Services Daniel Herr said. “We do what we can to ensure that they are in a setting where individuals are more stable so they are able to continue their recovery.” ​​

The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services oversees state hospitals. Evaluating what type of care someone may need after their stay begins once they are admitted.​​

“For some individuals, their needs are specialized enough that a particular service or housing option actually needs to be developed for their unique needs,” Herr added.

​​The increase of people on the EBL, Herr says, is partly because of the more admissions to state hospitals. He attributes this, in part, to a law that went into effect in 2014 requiring state hospitals to take into patients as a last resort for involuntary temporary detention orders, or TDOs. ​

From 2013 compared to 2018, there was a 294 percent increase in TDOs. ​

Over the past few years, the General Assembly has given millions of dollars to boost mental health care services and staffing at state facilities. One example is StepVA, which is expected to be fully implemented by 2021. The legislation requires Community Service Boards to provide 10 services, like walk-in hours to be evaluated for treatment programs.​

There is also a fund set up by the General Assembly to give money to people are released after being on the EBL to help cover the costs for additional community-based care.​​

Despite this, the availability of these resources still varies across the Commonwealth.

​​The Disability Law Center of Virginia will be sharing its study with the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services’ State Human Rights Committee next month. 

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