Inova Mount Vernon Hospital will open a new behavioral health unit next week, marking an expansion of mental health care along the Richmond Highway corridor.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held yesterday morning (Tuesday) for the nearly $10 million facility, which will increase bed capacity at the hospital by 67%.
Close to $4 million was donated by Amyia and Jeff Veatch, a local entrepreneur who founded the engineering firm Apex Systems. The family previously donated money to help modernize the hospital’s emergency room.
Hospital leaders and a number of elected officials attended the ceremony, including Rep. Don Beyer, State Sen. Scott Surovell, Del. Paul Krizek, Mount Vernon District School Board Rep. Karen Corbett Sanders, and Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck (who had to leave to vote on the county budget).
The Inova Veatch Family Behavioral Health Unit will open to hospital patients on May 16. It will feature 20 additional beds, private rooms, “quiet” spaces, modernized equipment, and enhanced safety features, like impact resistance windows and drywall.
Along with the hospital’s existing adult psychiatric unit, the total capacity for behavioral health patients will now be 50 beds.
As many noted during the ceremony, mental health care and behavioral services have become a priority in Fairfax County, as rates of depression and suicidal thoughts, specifically among young people, have risen drastically in recent years.
“We have a significant shortage of mental health services all over Virginia and especially acute here in Northern Virginia,” Surovell, who represents Hybla Valley, Woodlawn, and parts of Franconia, told FFXnow. “That’s the big reason we need to expand these services. If you don’t have a place for people to go when they need help, it can result in really tragic consequences.”
He called private contributions like the one made by the Veatch family “critical” to expanding care, particularly since behavioral services “are often not the most profitable areas for a hospital to invest in.”
But he said it’s also on the state to make the necessary investments as the need for mental health care continues to skyrocket.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has proposed $230 million in this year’s budget for addressing gaps in behavioral health services. Surovell said that doesn’t go far enough.
“This is about half of what we need because the state is so far behind in investing in behavioral health,” he said.
Mount District Supervisor Dan Storck agreed, stating at the ribbon-cutting that “we’ve never done enough” to provide mental health care both locally and across the country. Adolescent care in particular is lacking, he told FFXnow.
“We need more adolescent psychiatry units. Our adolescents are bearing the brunt of Covid,” Storck said. “They need more support than we can provide. Inova is stepping up in their Fairfax hospital, but that’s still inadequate to our adolescent needs.”
Beyer shared that his son suffers from schizophrenia and has been hospitalized “many times” at Inova Mount Vernon Hospital. The additional unit will hopefully provide care to more people in need like his son, he said.
While more resources are needed, the Veatch behavioral health unit and emergency room are potentially life savers for residents of the Richmond Highway corridor, Surovell said.
“They don’t have to travel to either Alexandria [City] or Franconia or Fairfax to get these services,” he said. “Having a facility that’s close can be the difference between life or death for a lot of people.”
(Updated at 11:30 p.m.) Redistricting is going to make a number of state senate races in Fairfax County very interesting this year.
Just like the House of Delegates, every Virginia State Senate seat is up for election in 2023, and like in the Virginia General Assembly’s other chamber, several primaries may be extremely competitive after the 2021 redistricting process shook up electoral boundaries.
Incumbents that could face off
In the newly-drawn District 35, which covers Annandale, Springfield, and George Mason University, two longtime incumbents could be facing off.
Sen. Dave Marsden had been the senator in District 37 since 2010, but redistricting pushed him and about 31% of his constituents into the new district. He announced his bid for reelection a year ago and has been campaigning ever since, a campaign spokesperson told FFXnow.
“He’s knocked doors in more than half of the precincts of the new SD35, and looks forward to continuing to serve the residents of Fairfax,” the spokesperson said.
Marsden’s potential primary opponent, Sen. Dick Saslaw, has been in the senate since 1980, making him its longest-serving current member. He’s also been the Senate majority leader since the Democrats took control in 2020. While redistricting kept Saslaw in the 35th District, only about one-third of his former constituents remain with him.
There have been persistent rumors that the 82-year-old might retire, but no announcement has been made yet. FFXnow reached out to Saslaw about his 2023 intentions but hasn’t heard back as of publication.
Marsden and Saslaw, if he seeks reelection, would also face newcomer and entrepreneur Heidi Drauschak, who declared her candidacy for the Democratic nomination earlier this month.
The newly-drawn District 38, which includes Herndon, Reston, and McLean, could also pair two Democratic incumbents, including one that also has been rumored to retire.
Sen. Jennifer Boysko first became a senator in 2019 after previously serving in the House of Delegates for two terms. She hasn’t officially announced anything about 2023 and didn’t respond to FFXnow’s request for comment, but said last year that she intends to run again.
However, she may have to run against Sen. Janet Howell in the Democratic primary.
Howell has served in the senate for more than two decades, representing District 32. Her former constituents make up nearly half of the new District 38, but there are also similar rumors about her retiring.
Howell didn’t respond to inquiries from FFXnow.
Boysko told FFXnow when the redistricting maps were announced last January that she holds an enormous amount of respect for Howell, calling her “the dean of the Senate” and a “true pioneer for women in government.”
He told FFXnow that he’s running to break the “blue wall” in the senate, focusing on education policy, public safety, transportation issues and financial mismanagement.
Other potential primary battles
Other primaries that are shaping up to be potentially competitive include District 36, which covers Centreville, Chantilly, Clifton, and Fair Oaks.
Stella Pekarsky, who represents the Sully District on Fairfax County’s school board, announced last week that she will challenge for the seat to “stand up” to Governor Glenn Youngkin.
The incumbent is four-term George Barker, though redistricting kept only about 6% of his former constituents in District 36. As a member of the Virginia Redistricting Commission, he came under some fire in 2021 for drawing himself back into a district that, at the time, had no other challengers. Read More
(Updated at 5:20 p.m.) A new bill that would let Virginia law enforcement use facial recognition technology is headed to the governor’s desk.
Senate Bill 741, which was proposed by Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36), would let local law enforcement agencies use the technology to investigate specific criminal incidents related to certain acts of violence and to identify deceased individuals and victims of online child sexual abuse material.
“The bill would put regulations and restrictions in place along with regular transparency for the use of facial recognition — not just with law enforcement, but also with identifying persons,” Surovell said.
Passed by the Virginia General Assembly earlier this month, the bill was communicated to Gov. Glenn Youngkin last Tuesday (March 22). If signed, the bill would create a model for local law enforcement agencies, which could create their own policies but must meet standards set by the Virginia State Police.
For now at least, the legislative shift doesn’t seem to have inspired any particular interest from Fairfax County’s law enforcement agencies.
“Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office does not possess facial recognition technology and has no plans to acquire or implement such technology,” Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Andrea Ceisler told FFXnow.
County Director of Public Affairs Tony Castrilli said that the Fairfax County Police Department also does not currently use facial recognition technology.
“The legislative process regarding this bill is pending,” he said. “As a result we will not be providing any response at this time.”
Virginia currently has a partial ban on local law enforcement agencies using facial recognition technology. That measure took effect in July 2021.
The partial ban does not extend to the Virginia State Police, and local law enforcement agencies can apply to the state police to use the technology in their cases.
“The only system that has been and is currently in use is the Centralized Criminal Image System, which was procured through DataWorks Plus,” VSP Public Relations Director Corinne Geller said. “CCIS allows criminal justice users to access images for identification purposes as well as perform lineups, witness sessions and facial recognition searches.”
The system lets the VSP compare an unknown image to a database of mugshots of previous arrestees. The software returns a list of candidates, rather than making a one-to-one match. CCIS is contained within the VSP’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division.
Surovell says he developed S.B. 741 to replace the partial ban, arguing that facial recognition technology could help police solve cases more quickly. He specifically cited last year’s so-called “shopping cart killer” investigations as an example when talking to FFXnow.
Other lawmakers fear the bill may contribute to civil rights issues and over-policing.
“When we consider the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement, the stakes are high because a mistake could mean that you deny justice for a victim and you take away an innocent person’s freedom,” Del. Kathy Tran (D-42) said. “The research is clear — women and people of color, particularly Black and Asian people, have greatly elevated risks of being falsely identified by this technology.”
Youngkin has until 11:59 p.m. on April 11 to sign SB 741 into law. If he does, the Virginia State Police would be required to develop a policy for the technology’s use by Jan. 1, 2023.
Photo via FCPD/Facebook