During the beginning of COVID-19, hospital inpatient volume and emergency department visits decreased, in part due to people postponing treatment. But the same data showed an increase in the number of patients getting treatment for alcohol, drug use, and related mental disorders, the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association (VHHA) reported in April. In a Friday press conference, VHHA Vice President of Data and Analytics David Vaamonde reported that increased treatment for those kinds of disorders continued into the first two quarters of 2021 — one of only two Major Diagnostic Categories (MDCs) that saw growth since the beginning of the pandemic.
“We’re looking at MDCs where volumes actually increased since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have alcohol and drug use, and drug induced organic mental health disorders, obviously a very concerning trend there, and then diseases and disorders of the respiratory system and infectious and parasitic diseases,” Vaamonde said, adding that the respiratory, infectious, and parasitic categories line up with what a COVID-19 patient would have.
Five of Virginia’s eight state-run mental health hospitals remain closed to civil temporary detention order (TDO) admissions due to dangerously low staffing levels. That’s increasing pressure on other pieces of Virginia’s mental health care system. On Tuesday, the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police (VACP) led a press conference where speakers called for the General Assembly to use American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds and long-term budget increases to help address the crisis.
“The mental health system in Virginia is clearly broken. We’ve seen the slow degradation of available resources in the state over time, and what we have also seen is the need for mental health resources has continued to grow,” VACP President Herndon Police Chief Maggie DeBoard said.
Five of Virginia’s eight state-owned adult mental health hospitals will be closed to new admissions temporarily, due to staff shortages. On Friday, Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services Commissioner Allison Land sent a letter announcing the shortages, citing 1,547 direct patient support staff vacancies out of about 5,500 state staff, with 108 resignations occurring in the past two weeks. Contract staff are also leaving, due to “unrelenting stress, required overtime,” and a “dangerous environment.”
Virginia had another record year for fatal drug overdoses in 2020. In 2019, Virginia had a record 1,627 fatal drug overdoses, but in 2020 that number spiked by 41.2 percent to 2,297, fueled by fentanyl overdoses, according to a fourth-quarter report from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH).
“The pandemic exacerbated drug deaths and last I checked, something like 40-plus states reported big increases in overdose deaths since the pandemic began,” VDH Statewide Forensic Epidemiologist Kathrin Hobron told The Virginia Star.