Why is it taking so long to implement reforms to Virginia’s mental health services? According to Saturday’s news story in The Times-Dispatch by Bridget Balch, after two years working to complete a four-year, nine-step plan to reform mental health services across the commonwealth, the state is only on step two.
The recently completed study by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission points to a lack of leadership at the state agency. That in turn has resulted in “inconsistent rollout of services across the state and failure to adapt priorities for localities with different needs.”
In 2017, the General Assembly directed the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to implement STEP-VA (System Transformation Excellence and Performance), a statewide initiative that seeks to provide nine core mental health services provided by the state’s 40 community service boards (CSBs). And yet, according to the story, few of the state’s CSBs for mental health treatment say they will be able to “implement the plan by the July 2021 deadline set by state lawmakers.”
JLARC has recommended that the General Assembly extend the behavioral health department’s deadline by a year to July 2022 to complete the additional steps and to consider withholding funding until sufficient planning has been done. Officials with the department say they are committed to completing the steps by July 2021. Maria Reppas, spokeswoman for the department, says the agency needs more money to hire additional staff.
This is unacceptable. Virginians have known for years that the commonwealth’s health care system was a deplorable mess. Extending the behavorial health department’s deadline by another year means that more people will be kept waiting for the critical, life-saving even, help they desperately need. The General Assembly should not withold money. Rather, the health department needs to continue to work on the issue and find the resources necessary to complete the steps within the allocated time frame. Those in need can’t wait.
— Robin Beres