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.

Now we learn that the Northam administration has also been an unmitigated disaster when it comes to mental health. That’s ironic, when you consider the damage the prolonged lockdowns, fruitless mask mandates and shuttered schools did to the mental health of vulnerable Virginians.

According to a scathing report in The Richmond -Times Dispatch on Sunday, Virginia’s former acting commissioner of behavioral health accused the Northam administration of deliberately neglecting the mental health system.

Dr. Jack Barber, a former interim commissioner of behavioral health, told the man who replaced him three years ago that the Northam administration had failed to heed years of warnings about overcrowding and understaffing. The current commissioner, Alison Land, immediately halted admission of civil patients — those not committed by the courts — to five state hospitals on July 9.

“For me, and no doubt others who dedicated the bulk of their careers to [the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services], the neglect of the hospitals and its consequences are distressing and demoralizing,” Barber said in a lengthy email message on Thursday to Dr. Dan Carey, secretary of health and human resources under Northam.

“Honestly, I am amazed at the lack of accountability for you and the administration for the cascade of decisions and actions that led to this point,” wrote Barber, who has spent more than 30 years in Virginia’s public mental health system, including four as interim commissioner.

The Richmond newspaper points out that this does not seem to be a partisan issue. All members of the Joint Subcommittee to Study Mental Health Services in the 21st Century have been supportive of Barber in the past and are not commenting on his accusations.

Virginia’s mental health services system is a disgrace. Lack of bed space and services mean our jails and homeless shelters are full of folks who are mentally ill, while our state institutions are not accepting new patients.

Worse, Virginia’s lone facility for children is so understaffed that they are able to only use 18 of 48 beds.

Shame on the governor and his appointees. The nation is seeing a sharp increase in the number of folks suffering from mental illnesses. This is no time to close state hospitals to new patients or limit beds for adolescents.

A medical doctor, of all people, should be alarmed by these developments.

When it comes to Northam, apparently not.

This column has been republished with permission from Kerry: Unemployed& Unedited.