RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Patients at Virginia’s nine state-run psychiatric hospitals waited nearly two days on average during the last fiscal year — from July 2021 to the end of last June — to be admitted.

Wait times are among the several issues staffers at the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC), Virginia’s legislative watchdog agency, are looking into for a study on the mental hospitals operated by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.

For the study, JLARC researchers will review the hospitals’ staffing and space needs, patient outcomes, admission and discharge policies and the state’s oversight of the facilities.

These hospitals – eight for adults and one for children – saw a 71% increase in people admitted from fiscal year 2014 to fiscal year 2021, Drew Dickinson, the study’s project leader, told JLARC members on May 15.

Virginia has reported these hospitals have been operating at or above capacity over the last few years, Dickinson added, leading to safety concerns for patients, staff and those on admissions waiting lists.

“Still, not everyone who needs to be admitted is being admitted or being admitted timely,” he said.

Dickinson said these hospitals have no control over who is admitted, a feature of the mental hospital system he said appears to be “unique” to Virginia and cited as a potential factor in the capacity issues.

“The average wait time for admission in state hospitals in fiscal year 2022 was about 43 hours, according to DBHDS, which operates the state’s nine hospitals,” he continued.

In the May 15 overview of the study, Dickinson told JLARC members that Virginia’s psychiatric hospital admission issues could be avoided if people in need of other services were provided help instead of being improperly placed in one of the facilities.

Another solution, Dickinson said, could be if more alternative facilities and treatments, such as nursing homes meant for dementia care, were made available.

Specifics on other contributing factors will be included in a final report. JLARC staff are expected to give a briefing on the study in December.

A JLARC study from last December found gaps in Virginia’s mental health system, including staffing challenges for community services boards that provide behavioral health and substance abuse services and people on long waiting lists to be admitted to facilities.