The General Assembly's Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) released a study on Virginia's state psychiatric hospitals on Monday, December 11, 2023. The report contained 32 recommendations to address various issues, such as inappropriate hospital admissions, workforce shortages, increased forensic patients, unsafe working conditions, patient safety, and persistent problems with the Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents. Vocal Virginia supports these recommendations that would make our state hospitals safer and more responsive to the needs of those living with mental health challenges.
Vocal Virginia would like to highlight two of the recommendations.
First, we endorse Recommendation 24, which suggests the General Assembly include language in the Appropriation Act requiring the Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) to fulfill its statutory obligation to investigate complaints received, including serious allegations of abuse, neglect, and inadequate care in the state's psychiatric hospitals. The report indicates that OSIG only investigated 18.5% of the complaints submitted by patients at state psychiatric hospitals in FY23. The OSIG has failed to fulfill its duties to protect some of Virginia's most vulnerable individuals. The General Assembly must take the necessary actions to hold OSIG accountable for its failures and create safeguards to eliminate this negligence.
We also strongly advocate for Recommendation 26, which would require the state to hire subject matter experts to assess the use of seclusion, restraint, and other options for managing behavior. Vocal Virginia, along with the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Mental Health America, and many other organizations, oppose seclusion and restraint as they provide no therapeutic benefit and cause serious long-term harm.
As we continue to work toward the end of the use of seclusion and restraint, we recognize that the state's psychiatric hospitals will need to implement alternatives. One option to consider is the Pennsylvania model, which has largely eliminated incidents of seclusion and restraint throughout their state hospitals via a cultural shift toward recovery-oriented care. Also, we request the inclusion of people with lived experience of mental health challenges and hospitalization as subject matter experts to be included in these endeavors.
Vocal Virginia calls on the General Assembly, the Youngkin Administration, and the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to implement the recommendations in this report to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of those hospitalized and the staff who support them in their recovery.