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Fairfax County is exploring sites for a regional youth mental health facility

The Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents in Staunton is currently Virginia’s only state-run psychiatric hospital for youth (via Google Maps)

As Virginia’s one state psychiatric hospital for youth continues to face bed shortages, additional regional youth mental health services could provide relief to kids and teens in Fairfax County.

While there are options for adults, Northern Virginia doesn’t have any crisis stabilization facilities for youth, according to Daryl Washington, executive director of the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, which provides mental health, substance use and disability services.

A crisis stabilization facility would provide an alternative to hospitalization, while making it easier for youth to receive psychiatric care close to home.

“It has many of the same services that a hospital would have where they have nursing staff, counselors, therapists and prescribers that can prescribe medication that are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Washington said.

As Washington told the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors last month, there’s no formally committed state funding or a public timeline for a regional facility, whichwould be developed in collaboration with other Northern Virginia counties.

However, state budget amendments approved in September include $58 million to enhance and modernize comprehensive crisis services, and CSB staff, along with county building experts, have toured possible locations.

Plans to build out regional youth crisis services come amid a national shortage of behavioral healthcare workers and challenges with state psychiatric beds in Virginia. The only youth state hospital — the Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents in Staunton — is not operating at its 48-bed capacity.

“In fiscal [year] 2019, we were able to get 154 kids admitted to the youth state hospital, but last year there was only enough availability where we could get 41 admitted,” Washington said.

On top of that, Washington says the Staunton hospital recently faced challenges in maintaining its accreditation from the Joint Commission, receiving three preliminary denials between May and July before reaching accredited status in September. That status was confirmed with a follow-up survey in October.

FFXnow contacted a Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services spokesperson for comment but didn’t receive a response by press time.

Although the county also sends youth to local private hospitals, only some of them accept kids, and the wait time for a psychiatric bed can be long, according to Washington

“Last fiscal year, we had 139 kids that had to wait eight hours or longer to find a hospital bed,” he told FFXnow. “For the Northern Virginia region, it was 332 kids that had to wait eight hours or longer before we could locate a hospital bed for them.”

In some cases, the state hospital is a better fit for care. When a private hospital is appropriate, keeping kids local is preferable, Washington said.

“If we have a youth in our community, our number one goal is to try to get them care as close to home as possible,” Washington said. “You almost always get better outcomes when you can provide services and treatment as close to home as possible.”

Elsewhere in the state, a 12-bed crisis stabilization unit for youth recently opened in Wythe County.

“It’s a new service that the state is wanting to stand up and expand, but it just takes time to build that infrastructure and level of care,” Washington said.

Image via Google Maps

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