Category Archives: Mental illness and substance abuse

A Lot of Unanswered Questions

The Chambers family. Photo credit: Richmond Times Dispatch

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Painting racial slurs on the face of an unconscious Black teenage boy is wrong.

That being said, a recent incident in the Richmond area leads to a lot of questions, including concerning the quality of reporting done by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

According to an RTD on-line story Friday by reporter Mark Bowes, a Powhatan special prosecutor was looking into a 2020 incident in which a 16-year-old Black youth passed out intoxicated at a party in Powhatan County. While he was unconscious,”… the N-word, the letters KKK, a drawing of a penis, the phrase “F— BLM” and ‘White Lives Matter’ [were] scrawled on his head.” Also, he was draped with a Confederate flag and a sex toy was placed next to his head. As teenagers will do, others at the party took pictures of him and posted them on social media. Reportedly, this type of thing had been done before, as a “party joke.” Continue reading

The Mental Anguish Veto

by James A. Bacon

As the debate over de-platforming former Vice President Mike Pence plays out in the pages of the University of Virginia student newspaper, a recent column illuminates, albeit unwitting, the complex interplay between mental illness, sexual orientation, fragility, and intolerance toward views people find uncomfortable.

Mental illness is rampant in American society today, especially in the so-called Generation Z. An increasing prevalence of anxiety and depression has emerged as a major challenge facing colleges and universities in Virginia, and across the United States. A month ago, students at James Madison University staged an occupation of Alumni Hall. Their demands: more resources and special allowances for students suffering from mental illness. UVa is no exception to this trend.

The anxiety and depression experienced by young people are very real, and those who suffer deserve our sympathy and support. But their anguish does not give them the right to cancel the rights of others.

Within that context, a young woman wrote a letter to The Cavalier Daily expressing her reasons for wanting to ban Pence from the Grounds. I do not use her name because I do not want to expose her to ridicule or otherwise add to the burdens she bears. Her story, though, is telling. Continue reading

When COVID Hysteria Meets Safetyism

by James A. Bacon

The percentage of Northern Virginia’s adult population grappling with anxiety and depression more than tripled during the COVID-19 epidemic — from 8% to 28% — according to data published by the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia. The percentage peaked at 39% in February 2020, affecting 755,000 individuals, but abated to 545,000 individuals by October.

Including other types of mental illness, the Community Foundation estimates that, all told, 750,000 Northern Virginia adults, or 39% of the adult population, have mental health needs. An estimated 370,000 want therapy or counseling but the region’s 5,100 mental health professionals can’t come close to meeting the demand. And they charge so much — around $215 per 45-minute session for self-pay — that many people can’t afford them anyway.

Wow!

Let those numbers sink in. Northern Virginia is one of the most affluent metropolitan regions in the country, yet nearly two out of five residents suffer from mental illness. Anxiety and depression are endemic. There’s a lot to unpack here. Continue reading

The State Budget: The House Reductions to Cover Tax Cuts

Del. Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach, chairman, House Appropriations Committee

Budget is policy. A budget reflects what an organization chooses to spend its money on.

The differences between the versions of the 2022-2024 biennial budget passed by the House and Senate this year are starker than they have been in recent memory. There are major philosophical and policy differences that the conferees will need to work out.

However, before they even get to those differences, there is another obstacle they will need to confront: they differ significantly on how much money the state will bring in. They have to agree on ow much money they have to spend before they can seriously discuss how to spend it.

The Senate budget is based on total general fund revenue that is about $3.4 billion higher than projected by the House. (Unless otherwise specified, all funding amounts in this article refer to the general fund.) The reason for the wide gap, of course, is the House adopting greater tax cuts than the Senate. Steve Haner has very ably compared the different approaches to tax cuts on this blog here, here, and here. Continue reading

Nineteen Millionth Nervous Breakdown



by James A. Bacon

Two dozen students occupied the central lobby of James Madison University’s Alumnae Hall for 90 minutes last week. The group issued a list of demands, the most notable of which was increased funding and staff for the Counseling Center. Protest leaders read from some 50 testimonies submitted by students, reports the student newspaper The Breeze.

“I’ve been struggling with depression and suicide thoughts on and off since I was 14 years old,” one testimony read. “All that changed at the beginning of last semester. My suicidal thoughts got really bad. I would go days without sleeping, and I had no idea how to handle classes when all I could think about was taking my own life.”

Another letter expressed the difficulty the writer and others have felt at JMU. “Our mental state,” it said, “is on the fritz.”

A graduate student urged faculty to disregard class-attendance guidelines and restrictions on test makeups. “That’s detrimental to student’s health and completely ignores the nuance of existence…. These sorts of things are barriers to students that are extraordinarily harmful.” Continue reading

Littel Pick as Health Secretary Signals Youngkin’s Approach to Healthcare Reform

John Littel

by James A. Bacon

Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin has appointed a new Secretary of Health & Human Resources to lead the fight against the COVID-19 epidemic and also to pursue long-term  reforms in mental health and healthcare.

Youngkin’s pick, John Littel, is a Virginia Beach resident and recent president of Magellan of Virginia and chief external affairs officer for parent company Magellan Health. Magellan of Virginia provides behavioral health services to Virginia Medicaid and FAMIS enrollees.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating impacts on Virginians across the Commonwealth, and John will play a pivotal role in overseeing our efforts in protecting Virginians’ lives and livelihoods,” said Youngkin in a press release.

“Starting on Day One, John’s experience will be an asset as we fix our broken mental and behavioral health system, ensure Virginians have access to affordable, free-market healthcare options, and reform our healthcare safety net to save taxpayer dollars and improve healthcare outcomes,” he added. Continue reading

Chronic Complainers Notch Big Win Against Landlords

by James A. Bacon

Whether you agree or disagree with Attorney General Mark Herring’s position on the case, a dispute between an unnamed individual with mental health issues and her Manassas landlords, Gia and Ernest Hairston, makes a fascinating case study. In a press release, Herring touts the outcome — the landlords paying the tenant $60,000 in compensation — as a victory for the disabled. Based upon upon the facts provided in the press release, it looks more like a victory for chronic complainers.

Here are the facts as contained in a Herring press release issued today. The tenant rented a condominium unit from the Hairstons in the summer of 2018. She told Mr. Hairston that she lived with a mental health condition that was currently under control. After moving in, she complained about the air conditioning system on very hot days and made requests for other repairs.

Mr. Hairston became frustrated by the maintenance requests, telling her that “any adult” would know better and that she was being “difficult” and “a problem.” He said the maintenance concerns were “all in her head.” To document the necessity for the repair requests, the tenant asked that any time the Hairstons came to the unit that her therapist or caseworker be present. After agreeing initially, Mr. Hairston then terminated her lease, giving her 90 days to move. Continue reading

To Get Respect, Show Respect

Khalah Sabbakhan, after her encounter with Richmond police. Photo credit: Daniel Sangjib Min, Richmond Times-Dispatch

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

There are frequent posts on this blog citing the low morale of police officers and officers quitting or retiring as a result. (For one example, see the post from earlier today.) However, for some reason, those posts often fail to report on the continued bad behavior of police.

Early last month, a 45-year old Black woman encountered two white police officers questioning a woman who appeared to be homeless near the Sauer Center in Richmond. (In order to keep the people involved in this incident straight in my narrative, I will refer to the woman being questioned as homeless, although it is not certain that was her status.) The subsequent actions were recorded by the Black woman involved and another eyewitness who started recording after she heard the first woman pleading for help. Continue reading

State Mental Health Plan Too large, Complex to Succeed?

by James C. Sherlock

I really want Virginia’s mental health program to work. It looks like a major struggle, however.

I will recommend a major change: state control of the Community Services Boards (CSB)s.  I think that will be necessary for the plan to have any chance of succeeding.

I have just finished reading a draft 409-page report to the federal government that describes planned efforts to expand and improve the state’s mental health care system. It has been developed by the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) for the signature of the Secretary of Health and Human resources.

Three things jump off the pages — all of the hard things are to happen going forward, the complexity of the program will be enormous and the state will not have enough control to make it happen.

Continue reading

Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game? Virginia’s 211 – Service or Crapshoot?

by James C. Sherlock

Sometimes the government of Virginia just makes you want to scream, cry, stay under the covers, whatever.

Navigating government and private social services agencies when you need help is hard, even more so a crisis. But it is way harder in Virginia than it needs to be.

To streamline the navigation process, the Federal Communications Commission in 2000 created 211, a number reserved for helplines that offer information or referrals to health and social support programs.

Given a layup, Virginia has clanged the ball off the bottom of the rim. Continue reading

Virginia’s Continuing Mental Health Crisis

Credit: Adobe clipart

by James C. Sherlock

I like government at every level to address only things it must. Then I want it to be world class in efficiency and effectiveness. It has been clear since the ’60’s that I am destined to be repeatedly frustrated on both counts.

We come to an old issue in Virginia, the shortage of appropriate treatment options for the mentally ill. The COVID-driven increase in mental illness has brought this issue back front and center.

Why is the Commonwealth so reliably awful when it comes to strategy, management and funding of state health programs? Even under federal court orders in the case of mental health?

Some of that is incompetence, but some is lack of interest — investigations and funding — by our governors and General Assemblies of both parties.

Most of us discovered the shortage in severe mental illness capacity in 2013 when Sen. Creigh Deeds’ son killed himself and injured his father. That incident that was preventable if there had been a psychiatric bed available.

That was not the first time the Commonwealth knew about it. There was that pesky federal investigation and court order. Continue reading

The Accelerating Scale of the Legislate-Regulate-Spend-and-Repeat Cycle Has Broken Government

by James C. Sherlock

Virginians – the state and individual citizens – have received over $81 billion in COVID-related federal funding. That comes to $9,507 for every man, woman and child in the Commonwealth.  Big money. 

That was Virginia’s share of $5.3 trillion in federal spending just on the pandemic (so far). A trillion dollars is a million million dollars. A thousand billion dollars.

For comparison, GDP was about $21 trillion in 2020  It is projected to total just short of $23 trillion this year.  The national debt is $29 trillion and growing. A little over $86,000 for every American. That figure does not include the $5 trillion in additional spending pending in the Congress.

Every day we spend $1 billion on interest with interest on the 10-year treasuries at 1.18% today. The Congressional budget office predicts 3.6% before 2027. Do the math. That is $3 billion a day — well over a trillion dollars a year — in interest. 

Relax. If you thought I was about to launch off on a discussion of drunken sailors, writing checks that our grandkids will have to make good, and the fact that inflation will drive interest payments ever upward, be reassured I am not.

This is about the demonstrated inability of many government agencies at every level to regulate, administer, oversee, spend and repeat with anything approaching efficiency or effectiveness.  Continue reading

COVID and Labor Shortages Are Aggravating Virginia’s Mental Health Crisis

Despite rising incidence of mental illness and substance abuse, admissions to hospitals in Virginia has trended lower in recent years. Something is broken. Source: Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association

by James A. Bacon

The story made big headlines earlier this month when the Northam administration announced that five of the Commonwealth’s eight mental health institutions have stopped taking new patients. Two things are happening to make a chronically bad situation worse. First, the number of patients referred to state hospitals through Temporary Detention Orders (TDOs) has soared — from 3.7 patients per day in FY 2013 to 18 per day currently, or a 392% increase. Second, the hospitals are suffering staff shortages, in part due to the COVID-19 epidemic but also because “the level of dangerousness is unprecedented,” according to a letter from the Virginia Department of Behaviorial Health and Development Services to partners and providers.

“There have been 63 serious injuries of staff and patients since July 1 and we are currently experiencing 4.5 incidents/injuries per day across the state facilities,” the letter stated. Employees are quitting. One facility, the Commonwealth Center for Children & Adolescents, can safely operate only 18 of its 48 beds.

Similar supply-and-demand issues are spilling into the private hospital sector. Private psychiatric hospitals, which provide acute short-term care, are experiencing a similar imbalance between demand for psychiatric facilities and a labor shortage. Continue reading

Northam Administration Neglects Virginia’s Mentally Ill

by Kerry Dougherty

You would think that with a medical doctor occupying Virginia’s Governor’s Mansion, Virginia would have topped the nation in COVID testing and COVID-19 vaccine rollouts and would be setting the standard for care for the mentally ill.

You would be wrong on all counts.

At the risk of plowing old fields, Virginia was close to dead last in both COVID categories for months. Shoot, even former Gov. George Allen was forced to cross our Southern border — along with hordes of other Virginians — to get a vaccine in North Carolina back in February when the commonwealth’s vaccine program was a convoluted mess. Continue reading

Psst! We Have Some Beds for You

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Something just does not seem right about this.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports today that the state has temporarily halted admissions to its mental health hospitals. In addition to being overcrowded, on Friday, Central State Hospital in Petersburg had more patients than beds, the hospitals have lost a significant number of staff and are struggling to replace them after COVID outbreaks in the hospitals.

But, wait! The private sector is coming to the rescue! The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association has announced that a private health system (unidentified) will make available 58 unused mental health beds (40 for adolescents and 18 for adults) to the state. Oh, yes, and, in exchange for $8.5 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to pay for staff for those beds.

I could understand the state contracting with the private sector on a per diem basis to take in these patients. But, a $8.5 million payment up front seems a bit brassy. The state would be better off using that $8.5 million to pay recruitment and retention bonuses to bolster the staff in its own facilities.