RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gov. Glenn Youngkin revealed a three-year plan to close treatment gaps in Virginia’s behavioral health system on Wednesday, Dec. 14.

Gov. Youngkin laid out his approach at Parham Doctors’ Hospital, the only crisis receiving center in Henrico County. Youngkin said the state’s current system is failing to meet growing mental health needs.

“We have a crisis and the system is not equipped to deal with it,” Youngkin said. “This challenge calls for much more than evolution. It calls for a revolution. It’s past time for major systemic changes.”

In his upcoming budget, Youngkin is proposing a new investment of $230 million for behavioral health improvements.

Much of it focuses on getting more people in crisis same-day care. Youngkin said the centerpiece of his proposal includes $20 million to fund more than 30 new mobile crisis teams to respond to 9-8-8 hotline calls. It also includes $58 million to increase the number of crisis receiving centers and stabilization units.

The six-pillar plan aims to strengthen the behavioral health workforce with better pay and relieve pressure on law enforcement by funding more personnel dedicated to this issue.

“The average law enforcement officer spends 51 hours on a temporary detention order while the person in crisis is often not getting critical mental health treatment that they need desperately,” Youngkin said.

Youngkin also wants to expand school-based treatment programs. He cited Mental Health America’s most recent ranking, in which Virginia fell from 21st to 48th in the country for youth mental health.

“Our young people across Virginia remain incredibly fragile,” Youngkin said. “For some, the response may be to turn to violence, harming themselves or others, and nowhere has this been more clear than the recent murders in Charlottesville and Chesapeake.”

Amid renewed calls for gun control following two high-profile mass shootings in Virginia, Youngkin previously alluded to his plan to improve mental health services.

Elizabeth Hilscher, a mental health advocate who lost her daughter during the Virginia Tech mass shooting in 2007, said she is pleased to see Youngkin elevating this issue. However, she said the state must do more to address gun violence.

“Very few mentally ill people ever resort to violence. That’s really important,” Hilscher said. “We have to talk about sensible gun laws in conjunction with mental health.”

On Thursday morning, Youngkin will present this plan and other budget priorities to the General Assembly, where these ideas must win approval to become a reality.

Senator Creigh Deeds, a Democrat who chairs the Behavioral Health Commission, said he looks forward to partnering with the Youngkin administration.

“We must meet the moment with urgency. People’s lives are at stake. Properly funded, staffed and located, regional crisis centers can play an important role in meeting a crisis, and removing stress from the rest of the system. Because every Virginian should have access to the quality services they need, regardless of their zip code. This is a step in the right direction, but we need to do more,” Deeds said in a statement.

Included in the Governor’s proposed budget are:  

  • $20 million to fund 30+ new mobile crisis teams, meeting our statewide goal in the first year, to respond to 9-8-8 hotline calls 
  • $58 million to increase the number of Crisis Receiving Centers and Crisis Stabilization Units, fully-funding the number of necessary centers in Southwest Virginia and Hampton Roads 
  • $15 million to expand the elementary, middle, and high school-based mental health program to dozens of new communities 
  • $9 million to expand tele-behavioral health services in public schools and on college campuses 
  • $20 million for partnerships with hospitals for alternatives to emergency departments for crisis 
  • $9 million for transportation and in-hospital monitoring by law enforcement and other personnel 
  • $8 million for Serious Mental Illness housing, creating 100 new placements for SMI patients with extraordinary barriers to discharge 
  • $57 million for 500 additional Medicaid Waiver Priority 1 Waitlist Slots and increased provider rates including respite and companion services 
  • $15 million in opioid abatement initiatives including a campaign to reduce fentanyl poisoning among our youth