The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association (VHHA) brought together some of Virginia’s top leaders and drivers during its 2021 Virginia Behavioral Health Summit. Behavioral health has been a key issue across the state, particularly due to ongoing workforce shortages at state hospitals and community services boards.
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One solution to the ongoing behavioral health crisis in the state is to consider non-traditional behavioral health care models. Two experts provided perspectives on behavioral health models not typically found in hospitals or primary care facilities.
Jacqueline McClenney, J.D., the presiding judge over the Richmond Behavioral Health Docket at the Richmond City General District Court, spoke on integrating behavioral health directly into the criminal justice system.
There are currently 14 dockets around the state, including a juvenile court docket. These groups are required by statute to provide behavioral health services such as comprehensive assessment, supervision, and treatment to court defendants, according to McClenney.
“It holds defendants accountable for their actions, while also allowing defendants to gain the tools to better handle their mental health needs, while living productive lives, without hopefully future criminal justice involvement.”
Nancy Roy, Ed.D, chief clinical officer at the JED Foundation, then spoke about working primarily with schools to address behavioral health for people primarily aged 13-30. The foundation takes a public health-centered approach to behavioral health, and ensures resources are available through the education systems, community groups, and other entities beyond a typical counseling center.
The foundation’s goal is to establish a continuum of care between school systems and health providers in the form of referrals and Memorandum of Understanding [MoU] agreements concerning the exchange of health information.
A common problem Roy sees in school systems is that a student needing to be hospitalized is discharged in the middle of the night, without proper continuity of care to help them return to their dorm or other living arrangements.
Both speakers stressed the importance of collaboration between different health care sectors, particularly between primary care providers and behavioral health specialists. Roy said this could have literal implications on a person’s health.
“[Colleges] may have a health center, and then they have a counseling center, and then never the two shall meet … God forbid [primary care providers] prescribe me with a medication, unknowing that I’m on something from the counseling center that may be contraindicated.”
McClenney also highlighted the importance of bringing together specialists with a variety of backgrounds. For example, a specialist with a background in social work might help an individual navigate behavioral health resources differently than a clinician.
Karyn Flannagan, Psy.D, the vice president of Behavioral Health Service Line at Inova Health System, moderated the discussion, asked the panelists to offer closing thoughts on strengthening behavioral health services particularly for those in transitional periods of their life, such as entering adulthood.
McClenney emphasized the continuum of care for people with behavioral health needs, even when they are facing criminal justice proceedings.
“The positive impact on the community is a reduction in recidivism, the reduced length of incarceration for the individual, and the protection of the community.”
Bringing behavioral health into the present context of the COVID-19 pandemic, Roy emphasized that increased isolation during the year has taken a “huge toll” on young people, who rely on developing relationships with their communities as they transition out of high school and college.
“At each phase, whether it’s your workplace, your school, your family, those are the places that really need to support whatever the developmental transition or task is at the time, because without it, we see mental health and other struggles really significantly exacerbate.”