After Chesapeake, UVA shootings, Youngkin to propose mental health agenda

After the second mass shooting in Virginia in as many weeks, which killed seven people as of noon Wednesday, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin said his administration plans to propose legislation to strengthen mental health resources at the General Assembly this winter.

While offering few details to reporters after an annual Thanksgiving ceremony, Youngkin said his agenda will allocate more resources, address staffing issues and recognize that people experiencing a mental health crisis need “day care.”

“It’s extremely important,” Youngkin said. “We know we are in a mental health crisis and there are some very immediate actions that we need to take.”

Lt. gov. Winsome Earle-Sears said in a statement on Wednesday: “I am committed to making mental health issues a priority of my office and will work with the Governor, Attorney General, General Assembly and local leaders to address this crisis.”

When asked if he would be open to legislation restricting access to guns, Youngkin said “today is not the time” to speak out on such issues.

“I basically believe there will be a moment to talk about these things. I think the people that are trying to raise them are trying to talk about things that are really having a time,” Youngkin said. “Today is not the time. Today is the time to support families and bring people together. There will be a moment to talk about these things.”

The comments followed a mass shooting at a Chesapeake Walmart Tuesday night. Seven people died, including the gunman, who suffered a self-inflicted wound. Four people remain in the hospital WAVY 10 reported Wednesday mornings.

On November 13, a University of Virginia student shot dead three former soccer teammates and injured two on a bus returning from a school field trip to Washington DC. The suspected shooter, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., is in custody, and Attorney General Jason Miyares’ office is conducting an outside investigation into the shooting on behalf of the university.

And earlier this year, two Bridgewater College police officers were killed in a campus shootout. The suspected shooter faces charges in Rockingham County.

Stress on the mental health system

Virginia’s mental health system was under stress for several yearswith problems that peaked this July when staff shortages forced the state to do so to temporarily close five of its psychiatric clinics to new admissions due to security concerns.

Staff shortages overwhelm Virginia’s mental hospitals

The demands on state hospitals have also increased. Since Virginia’s “bed of last resort” law, which requires state mental health facilities to admit patients after an eight-hour grace period if a bed cannot be found at other facilities, the number of patients admitted through temporary incarceration has skyrocketed , enacted in 2014 Orders up nearly 400%.

The biennial budget approved by the General Assembly in June this year included wage increases an average of 37% for direct care workers in state mental health facilities to stem losses. No increases were included for staff at Community Services Boards, the local agencies that help people with behavioral health problems in the community.

Mental health issues among college students were also one of the top issues highlighted by the state’s Joint Legislative and Audit Review Commission in a Recent study the impact of COVID-19 on Virginia schools. JLARC found that such problems are “worryingly prevalent” among students. At the same time, Some districts are losing mental health providers due to what these providers say are changes in the way the state deals with the provision of such services.

efforts to reduce violence

Virginia passed major gun control reforms in 2020 while the state was controlled by Democrats. The legislation imposed universal background checks on gun sales, introduced warning labels, required gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms, increased some gun-related penalties, and restored the state’s previous one-gun-per-month law. A proposal for a total ban on assault weapons failed in the Senate.

During the last session, with power split between Democrats and Republicans, the parties agreed to include it in the state budget $13 million to reduce shootings through a fund that could provide grants to local governments, community groups and hospitals for gun violence reduction efforts, and another fund focused on crime-fighting strategies.

The number was far less than the $27 million proposed by outgoing Governor Ralph Northam and requested by Senate Democrats during the last session a nationwide center for firearm violence intervention and prevention within the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services.