Gov. Youngkin proposes massive funding for behavioral health transformation

HENRICO CO., Va. (WDBJ) — Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin says the state is facing a mental health crisis that requires a “revolution” in the way we provide behavioral health care.

On Wednesday afternoon, he unveiled a comprehensive three-year plan that envisages over $230 million in new spending.

Youngkin made the announcement at Parham Doctors’ Hospital, outlining a plan that will cover a wide range of behavioral health services.

A key part of the proposal is funding for 30 new mobile response teams and expanding the state’s 988 response hotline so Virginians have someone to talk to and a way to get help quickly, Youngkin said.

“The behavioral crisis is not unique to Virginia,” Youngkin told the audience, “but let’s be clear, we are in a crisis here in Virginia.”

With mental illness on the rise and the far-reaching effects of drugs like fentanyl affecting communities across the Commonwealth, Youngkin said the state’s behavioral health system is overwhelmed and not meeting the needs of Virginians during the crisis.

Youngkin said the challenge required more than evolution. He said it calls for a revolution.

“You see, there is no magic wand. There is no single programme, but true transformation requires a comprehensive, multi-year, Commonwealth-wide effort,” Youngkin said. “And we have to start now, because Virginians deserve the right help right now. “

Youngkin will outline a series of budget changes aimed at addressing six “pillars” of his plan. These include ensuring same-day care, offloading law enforcement, building more capacity across the system, providing targeted support for substance use disorders, prioritizing healthcare workers, and identifying best practices and innovations.

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Elizabeth Hilscher is Chair of the State Board of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, appointed by Governor Terry McAuliffe. She is also the mother of Emily Hilscher, a Virginia Tech student who died in the 2007 tragedy.

She said she was heartened by what she heard Wednesday, including the size of the investment and the governor’s commitment.

“This is the governor’s top priority,” Hilscher said, “and he’s hired some powerhouses to help him with that.”

The governor’s announcement included no specific news about Catawba Hospital, but a state study of the Roanoke County facility is scheduled to be released Thursday.

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