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.