Loudoun supervisors have asked state lawmakers for a new facility to address a mental hospital bed crisis, among other local priorities, while state lawmakers have warned them to temper their expectations during a session of the politically divided General Assembly.
Last year, the state’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services closed admissions at five of the Commonwealth’s eight adult psychiatric hospitals, citing staff shortages. According to a county staff report, as of September, about 217 public psychiatric beds, or about 20% of beds in the state, are still out of service, with a lingering waiting list for the remaining beds. State law requires that beds be available for people under temporary detention orders, and since the state system has collapsed on its self-imposed liability, maintaining the people subject to these orders in hospital emergency rooms, beds or other hospital settings has become common.
The county asked state lawmakers to address staffing shortages last year; so far, the state has offered no plan to return to compliance and get these people into mental institutions.
On Oct. 6, supervisors voted to request $16.1 million from the state to build a new regional crisis reception and stabilization facility with approximately 224 beds for 24-hour assessments and short-term stabilization . The county estimates that hiring a contractor to manage the facility will cost $11.51 million per year.
But even if the state funds this facility, county staff members warn that it won’t be ready soon enough to meet the need. The county government and the Community Services Board are continuing to develop new mental health and crisis services that could reduce the number of psychiatric beds needed.
Sen. John J. Bell (D-13) said Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s staff indicated they would submit a $48.6 million budget amendment to fund five new crisis centers across the state, although that he said that number was probably too low.
County Administrator Tim Hemstreet said part of the problem in Northern Virginia is that an existing regional facility has now been opened for statewide admissions. And Department of Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Developmental Services Director Margaret Graham said providing a facility for the Northern Virginia region could ease pressure on the rest of the state.
“If we could build that, I think if we could use none of the public hospital beds, or very, very few … and then the public hospitals would have more capacity for other areas,” she said. declared.
Bell and Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31), who serve on the Joint Committee on Health Care and the Behavioral Health Committee, agreed they would wait to see what funding the governor is proposing and how to expand it. .
“If we have this crisis stabilization, it means that a person who comes in in a mental health crisis, because they have a place to sit to become stable, to get help, they will not spread not and will not get worse, which means they won’t have to go to a state hospital and overall it will cost less money,” the county chair said, Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large). “And so the unit that we’re asking for…will save a lot more money at the end, because now you don’t have somebody going to a public hospital and waiting for that bed and probably staying there for days.”
But state lawmakers have also advised county supervisors to temper their expectations with a government split between Republicans and Democrats. Democrats still hold a majority in the Senate, while the governor is a Republican and Republicans hold a majority in the House of Delegates.
Bell warned that money could be tight this year.
“The signs are there from various people in the administration that the governor is going to ask for more tax cuts. Last year’s cuts were the biggest we’ve ever had without long-term compensation, which is dangerous,” he said. “We’re one of 12 states with a triple-A bond rating, and we care about that a lot because it helps us in so many ways. So I think we have to look into that in the future. I think there is going to be another big budget fight.
And Senator Jennifer Boysko (D-33) warned that this may not be the year to open up some issues, such as new tenants and eviction protections.
“I was told that if we put forward a bill of this nature, we could possibly cause problems,” she said. “…In the current climate, someone may change the policy in a way that might not be as helpful as you hope.”
And already on the county’s wish list, she said, is the power to fund a program that provides anyone facing eviction the right to an attorney.
It could also be a tough year for the local zoning authority. Governor Glenn Youngkin’s proposals to encourage more affordable housing largely through deregulation have raised concerns among some local officials that the state is trying to chip away at local authority.
“When the governor presented his housing plan, he started talking about zoning, and of course we want to make sure that we retain our local control of zoning,” said Supervisor Juli E. Briskman (D-Algonkian) . “And frankly, we’re working on a strategic plan for unmet housing need and all those things, and we don’t really need the governor to mess with our zoning.”
The local zoning authority has played a key role in many of Loudoun’s strategies to encourage more affordable housing, such as requiring a certain number of price-controlled units when applying for rezoning for residential and residential developments. mixed. It has also been key to Loudoun’s efforts to meet the infrastructure demands of these new residents.
“You have to have schools, roads, firefighters, police, green spaces and all of those things,” Randall said. “So the state deciding it’s going to do anything with the zoning is completely inappropriate. They have no idea about counties and localities, municipalities, what their infrastructure looks like. They have no idea, if we’re building it, if we have room in our school system, on our roads.
State lawmakers also said a request for a 60-day to 100-day extension of the time for council to hear and vote on a master plan permit appeal, a decision of the Planning Commission, is a no-no. startup. Favola said “there’s no way” she could put that 100-day deadline in an invoice.
“There are people who have very negative opinions, and they think that Loudoun would deliberately delay the review of the application and therefore force the developers to spend money unnecessarily, because they are waiting for this review”, he said. she declared.
The warning highlights the power of the development industry and the Homebuilders Association of Virginia in Richmond, which has previously thwarted county attempts to maintain local authority and direct development, such as with new restrictions on proposal agreements in zoning decisions.
And lawmakers have questioned the prospect — and the constitutionality — of a county request to limit who can run for sheriff in Loudoun. Board of Supervisors calls for Loudoun County-specific legislation that requires applicants to be at least 21 years old, have a high school diploma or GED, and have at least 10 years “of progressively responsible experience in the application of the law”.
That would make the sheriff’s office the only local office — including the county supervisor — where lawmakers have stepped in to limit voter choices. As a general rule, anyone eligible to vote for an office, i.e. at least 18 years old on election day, living in the jurisdiction and not having had their right to vote revoked, is eligible. to run for this position.
Bell pointed out that passing locality-specific legislation requires a higher vote and said “it’s not something I’m willing to pass”, and he would worry about “unintended consequences”. .
He also pointed out that the governor of Virginia – who must only be at least 30 years old and reside in Virginia – has authority over the state police and national guard.
“You can be a governor and be responsible for significant military and law enforcement personnel and assets and not have those specific qualifications, so I don’t know how we can make that argument, frankly,” he said. said Bell. “…Although I completely hear what you are saying, I think it will be a dangerous path to take.”
“The pushback we’re going to get is that they’re elected. Voters can decide,” Favola said. “I’m not even sure we can apply criteria, to be absolutely honest.” And she said the idea “may not even be constitutional.”
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