Warner and Wexton discuss mental health at the Inova Roundtable

A celebration of $4.1 million in federal funding for a new mental health crisis center doubled as an opportunity for Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Leesburg) hear from local medical providers about the local impact. of the national mental health crisis.

Warner and Wexton visited Inova Loudoun Hospital in Landsdowne on March 25 to deposit a giant ceremonial check for the county’s planned “stabilization and crisis reception center,” set to open in 2026.

Federal funding will help offset the $16.6 million cost of the 14,000-square-foot facility at the county-owned complex outside Leesburg on Sycolin Road. The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors pledged last year to pay for the entire project if other funding sources did not materialize. State funding did not make it into the Virginia General Assembly’s budget this year.

According to Dr. Ramia Gupta, medical director of the Department of Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Developmental Services, said the facility will help patients suffering from mental health crises including anxiety attacks, drug problems, depression and psychosis. It will have 16 reclining chairs for patients up to 23 hours, and 10 beds for stays of up to 14 days. The center will serve patients seeking care and manage involuntary stays.

Dr. Ramia Gupta, medical director of Loudoun County’s Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Developmental Services, speaks March 25 during a mental health panel discussion at Inova Loudoun Hospital.

Gupta, a forensic psychiatrist, told Warner and Wexton that when people in crisis are forced to spend dozens of hours in hospital emergency rooms, it causes “chaos” for patients and hospital staff. hospital He said the center will include a detox facility and that the staff will include doctors, physicians, nurses, “peer recovery specialists” in long-term drug recovery who counsel patients and psychiatrists. The latter will perform “risk assessments” of patients for potential violence or suicidal behavior.

“Timely intervention is a critical factor in stabilizing any patient. This mitigates the risk,” Gupta said. “The focus is on both patient safety and the safety of others around them.”

Gupta said the “well-being, dignity and safety” of patients was paramount. She was one of a dozen hospital executives and mental health caregivers who participated in an hour-long panel discussion with Warner and Wexton.

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From Kannan Srinivasan, Del. Atoosa Reaser, Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Juli Briskman, Representative Jennifer Wexton, Senator Mark Warner, Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall, Supervisor Mike Turner and Dr. J. Stephen Jones poses with a ceremonial check March 25 at Inova Loudoun Hospital.

Wexton, who took office in 2019, is retiring at the end of the year after being diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy, a serious neurological condition. He spoke at the panel using a text-to-speech feature on a tablet.

Wexton said that in her previous career as a lawyer, she saw firsthand in mental commitment hearings how a lack of mental health treatment caused “unnecessary suffering” due to a lack of beds for hospital treatment . Wexton said the pandemic exacerbated the problem with an increase in “deaths of despair” such as overdoses and suicides.

“The systems we have in place to respond to people in crisis and to provide the care they need are woefully inadequate,” said Wexton, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee that helps oversee federal spending. “This crisis center helps change that.”

Dr. J. Stephen Jones, CEO and president of Inova Health System, said the pandemic and the four years that followed created an “almost unimaginable challenge” for hospitals and mental and behavioral health care providers.

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Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) speaks March 25 during a panel discussion on mental health at Inova Loudoun Hospital.

Loudoun Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large) disagrees. He said that COVID revealed the crisis rather than causing the crisis and emphasized the need to destigmatize mental health and drug treatments.

“Mental health is just health,” said Randall, who worked as a mental health therapist before taking office in 2016. “Substance abuse disorder is not a character flaw, it’s a disease.”

Warner, who took office in 2009 and whose committee assignments include the Appropriations Committee and the Finance Committee, said the increased use of telehealth since the pandemic and the establishment of the hotline National suicide and crisis life 988 in 2022 have helped people in need. But he acknowledged the enormity of the crisis, saying drug and mental health issues have affected many families, including his own. “This is something that affects all of us,” he said.

In addition to destigmatizing mental illness, speakers called for more treatment options.

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Bridgett Whitehead, licensed professional counselor and program director at The Williams Center, speaks March 25 during a mental health panel discussion at Inova Loudoun Hospital.

Bridgett Whitehead, program director at the Leesburg-based Williams Center for Wellness and Recovery, said her organization is excited about the crisis center opening, but some clients have needs that require long-term inpatient stays with medication and mental health. facilities. He said there is currently a months-long wait for facilities in Loudoun.

“When we have to send them out of the county, that means parents or family members can’t be involved in treatment in the way we need them to be to sustain the change,” she said.

Dr. Anthony E. Crowley, chief medical officer of the Loudoun Medical Group, a physician-owned group with more than 350 providers, said there is a shortage of primary care physicians in Loudoun and many are approaching the age of retirement He said there is also a shortage of psychiatrists, and many are only taking cash because of a lack of full reimbursements from Medicaid, the federal insurance program for low-income people. He contrasted this with high Medicare reimbursement rates for orthopedists.

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Dr. Anthony E. Crowley, chief medical officer of Loudoun Medical Group, speaks March 25 during a mental health panel discussion at Inova Loudoun Hospital.

Crowley also noted that many young doctors graduate with “crippling” college debt of about $250,000 on average.

“If you have that kind of debt, you can’t come to Loudoun County and become a general practitioner or a psychiatrist. You’re just not going to make it,” he said. “This is something that the state government and the federal government can address.”

Warner thanked the speakers for their efforts to provide mental health care.

“This is something I have a lot more to learn about, but I know how much heart and soul you all put into this,” he said. “I am grateful for your passion.”

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