Amid a push to end mental health hospitalizations, Virginia is still funding more beds

“Broken” is the only word Sheriff Darrell Warren can find to describe Virginia’s mental health system. A 30-year veteran of the Gloucester Sheriff’s Office, he’s part of a growing contingent — law enforcement officials who have turned to state legislators, or the pages of their local newspapers, to share their alarm over a continuing shortage of psychiatric beds.

“The real issue is that we have a person in crisis who’s waiting and waiting and waiting for help,” Warren said. One of his worst cases was a teenager who self-reported to a local hospital with a substance use disorder. But as the boy began withdrawing, his behavior became increasingly aggressive. For more than 90 hours, he was confined to the emergency room — flanked by deputies — as his community services board tried to find him an inpatient treatment bed.

“Do you think this kid, or any of his friends, do you think they’re likely to look for help again if they have to go through what he did, and sit there for 90 hours?” Warren said. “I would suggest no, they’re not. It’s a bad situation, and I don’t know what the answers really are.”