Critical Staff Vacancies at Central State Hospital

By James C. Sherlock

This space has offered the opinion previously that it is unwise to build a new Central State Hospital (CSH) on the site of the old one.

A follow-up FOIA request to the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services has yielded current “jobs filled” data to compare to “jobs vacant” data reported earlier to enable us to examine significant personnel shortfalls by percentages.

They make a discouraging point about the current status and the future prospects of CHS in Dinwiddie County.

The reasons for the job vacancies include, in no particular order:

  1. The overall shortage of mental health professionals in Virginia and nationwide;
  2. The area of the hospital is very poor and dangerous, as are the public schools, meaning many candidates will not wish to live and raise a family close to CHS;
  3. There is no nearby research hospital available to staff:
    1. to seek an in-person second opinion on a case; or
    2. in which to maintain a teaching position; or
    3. to help research cures;
  4. And, insufficiently attractive pay and working conditions to overcome the first three.

Those combine to remind us that in a competitive market for skilled labor in short supply, labor can and does optimize the conditions under which it will work.

Not nearly enough of the required skilled labor wants to work at a maximum security mental hospital in Dinwiddie County. It is hard to imagine a realistic pathway to fill the vacant jobs at Central State while it remains there.

Spending $400 million (or more) to build a new hospital on that same site seems to represent in the General Assembly some combination of:

  • ignorance of the staffing challenges;
  • treating Central State as a regional entitlement with a touch of NIMBY from other regions;
  • systemic inertia; or
  • all three rather than a realistic consideration of care quality and patient and staff needs.

Governors McAuliffe and Northam tried to build it for eight years. When last reported, construction is to start in the fall of this year.


That new facility seems as destined to fail in attracting critical staff as the current one.

That in turn seems a scandalous disregard of the needs of the patients reflected in the quality and quantity of staff.