Diversion File Suspends New Referrals Due To State-Wide Shortage of Mental Health Workers | criminality

Local officials and the Region Ten Community Services Council are scrambling to find solutions after a shortage of mental health workers forced the Albemarle-Charlottesville behavioral health record to suspend admissions.

Launched in 2015, the Behavioral Health Record – also sometimes referred to as a Therapeutic Record or Mental Health Record – has become an effective tool for local courts to divert people from prison for treatment.

In mid-November, however, the registry stopped accepting new clients due to staffing issues in region ten, which had a significant impact on the program.

Jim Hingeley, Albemarle County Commonwealth attorney, said prosecutors and mental health partners have concocted a process to work with those already on the program.

“We can come up with alternatives, but they are by no means as effective as the treatment record,” Hingeley said. “I guess you could say we have a big box of bandages and started putting bandages on issues that need more than bandages. “

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The alternatives actually existed before the case was created and do not offer the same supports, said Nina-Alice Antony, Commonwealth Senior Associate Lawyer in Charlottesville.

“The reason we really wanted the therapy record from the start was that it provides a level of forensic and community oversight that is unlike any other experience you will have in the justice system,” said Antony. “It takes someone’s case out of an adversarial system and puts them in an alternative case which is more of a collaborative community of people trying to get them to where they need to be. “

Liz Murtagh, chief of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Public Defender’s Office, said staff shortages in Area Ten are a huge problem for her clients, with some waiting more than a month for treatment.

“If you have someone in crisis or who has a substance abuse problem and they need to be seen immediately, they still won’t be seen immediately,” she said. “If you’re trying to meet the needs of a person in crisis – they’ve been arrested, they need help and we’re trying to resolve the case – if that treatment or that assessment doesn’t take place, it slows everything down. down.”

Since the break in new referrals began, current participants have continued to receive treatment. Those already approved to be assessed for file eligibility continued throughout the process.

The record currently has 16 active participants, four inactive participants and seven pending entries, with two more expected to be entered on Wednesday.

The treatment record is voluntary, but it begins with a reference from one of many sources, including prison authorities, the OAR, the police, defense lawyers, prosecutors or a mental health professional from the region ten.

The case is currently overseen by Albemarle County General District Court Judge Matt Quatrara.

The role is for those for whom serious mental illness played a significant role in the crime committed. It is only open to people accused of minor offenses. Defendants are not eligible if they have committed a felony or if they have a significant history of violent or sexual offenses.

Region Ten continued its engagement, allocating further resources to try to support the participants. These include a peer support specialist, an intern to work with participants, and a new clinician.

Region Ten is part of several community service boards that help with local court diversion and processing cases. Like many mental health care providers across the country, he has been experiencing a workforce crisis for years.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the increased need for mental health services, the crisis has only deepened, said Joanna Jennings, community relations coordinator for Region Ten.

She said the Community Services Board had to temporarily suspend additional referrals “to maintain the safety of current clients.” This includes clients participating in the mental health case.

Jennings said unprecedented gaps in staffing combine with increased risk to staff and clients, increased complexity of cases and compassion fatigue to create stress and burnout for caregivers.

Burnout leads some staff to quit their posts for other jobs, pay more elsewhere, or stay at home.

There are currently 2,400 positions open for community service boards across Virginia, Jennings said. The current average vacancy rate in the state is 15%, but Region 10’s vacancy rate is nearly 40% in some of the most essential programs.

Jennings said staff are excited about offers from Virginia State Hospitals that offer bonuses for recruitment and retention as well as general state funds for the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services. . These funds should bring the salaries of this ministry to 75% of the national average.

“This approach creates inequalities that have a significant negative impact on [a community board’s ability] to hire, ”Jennings said. “We are currently asking that every new dollar invested in the Virginia psychiatric hospital system also be invested in community care. “

The Virginia Association of Community Services Boards is currently advocating for an investment of $ 167.5 million in recruitment and retention programs, according to Region Ten. The proposal includes a pathway to licensure by paying for clinical supervision hours and funding loan and scholarship repayments.

Katie Moore, probation program manager for the mental health case, said the Behavior Health Docket advisory board recently received a grant from the US Department of Justice. The grant of approximately $ 500,000 will be used to provide additional staff to support the case, including one at Region Ten, one at OAR and one at Partner for Mental Health.

“We have been fortunate to receive federal grants that will help increase capacity and we have requested an increase in local city and county funding,” Moore said. “In general, we have received considerable support for the program from both the city council and the county supervisory board. Although we face this current challenge, the support and determination for the case is strong and we look forward to the expansion of these services in our community. “

While the federal grant offers a way forward, it is a temporary solution to a complicated problem, several advocates have said.

“Money is certainly welcome, but that doesn’t change the fact that at a grassroots level some positions in OAR and Region Ten have been advertised for over a year and no one wants the jobs because that the pay is too low for a job that requires a master’s degree, ”said Antony.

“We are all very excited about the possibilities the grant offers, but we still have fundamental problems getting more funding at all levels of these organizations so that they can recruit and retain the staff they need to function. at full capacity, ”said Antony. .

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