Virginia Needs a Top Mental Health Research Hospital – UVa is Positioned Provide It Statewide

UVa Hospital

by James C. Sherlock

The Commonwealth has an ambitious and promising program to improve behavioral health services to its citizens.

One thing missing among the six pillars of that program is a top mental health research hospital system.

The top-rated mental hospital in the United States is Mass General Brigham’s McLean hospital. Many of the doctors are Harvard Medical School faculty.

Of the remaining top 40 on that list, none is in Virginia.

Virginia’s two leading mental health research hospitals are both associated with the University of Virginia medical school and UVa Health.

  • INOVA Fairfax Hospital, partnered with the medical school; and
  • the University of Virginia Hospital in Charlottesville.

There is an opportunity, if the Board of Visitors and Virginia Health choose to exercise it,

  • to invest in bringing one or both of those facilities into the ranks of the best mental health research hospitals in America; and
  • to expand UVa Health at the Wise campus to spread the benefits to that part of the state.

That, in turn, can help the state deal with its mental hospital problems.

Geriatric, adult and pediatric mental health clinical research specialties must be supported across the state.

UVa Health has a strategic plan that can accommodate those programs.

  • Such an initiative can make mental health one of the destination programs that is called for in the plan; and
  • The same plan calls for statewide expansion. UVa Health can offer mental health services at UVa-Wise Clinic first for students and faculty, and then to all residents of Southwest Virginia.

Bottom line. Top behavioral health clinical research programs directly associated with UVa Health, the medical school and its INOVA partner at Fairfax Hospital can prove transformative for mental health care in the Commonwealth.

I suggest that parallel to and in coordination with program expansion at UVa the state consider moving beds for patients adjudicated as criminally insane and those incarcerated for mental health assessment pre-trial from Petersburg to purpose-built new state facilities in Charlottesville and Fairfax and, when available, at Wise.

That would simultaneously:

  • move the patients nearer to their homes;
  • ease the burden on sheriffs;
  • put patients adjacent to research hospitals to give them access to advanced services;
  • reduce the crowding at Central State; and
  • ameliorate the staffing problems there.

I hope UVa Health, the Board of Visitors and the Secretary of Health and Human Resources will consider these initiatives.

They can make a big difference.

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4 responses to “Virginia Needs a Top Mental Health Research Hospital – UVa is Positioned Provide It Statewide”

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      It is not a matter of trust, it is a matter of UVa or no one for this specific mission. They hold the only cards that can be played.

  1. Not in my backyard!


  2. Lefty665 Avatar

    Your idea of improving Virginia’s standing in mental health research is interesting. Are there studies that show a profound lack of mental health research in the US, or that the existing research centers are inadequate? How up to date are Virginia’s mental health services? Would Virginians be better and more efficiently served by better utilizing existing mental health research than by diverting resources to invent its own?

    It seems like only yesterday you were advocating contracting out Virginia’s entire mental health institutional system. Today it’s expand Virginia’s mental health institutions. Oh, it was yesterday. Curious.

    Forensic and other units in Charlottesville and Fairfax will not move most patients closer to their homes than central Virginia located Central State (Virginia has got its state mental hospital names down cold, Central State, Eastern State, Western State, South Eastern State. It seems to have something to do with geography.). Everyone from Tidewater, South Side and Southwestern Virginia will be further from their homes. Only crazy people from Northern Virginia or the sparsely populated C’ville area would be closer to home.

    Let’s see if I understand you correctly, you propose to relieve staffing problems at Central State by opening and staffing two new mental health institutions?

    Relieving overcrowding at Central State is an admirable goal. There is already a large capital replacement project under way there. You would add to that by building new institutions in Charlottesville and Fairfax?

    How about partnering VCU medical school with Central State to make use of existing facilities and staffing? Richmond has an existing much larger population of people needing mental health services who would directly benefit from research and pilot programs than are in Charlottesville (unless you include the wokies at UVa). It would also be fitting as Richmond is where discharges from Central State have been dumped for decades.

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