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Northam order addresses impacts of COVID-19 in state-operated psychiatric hospitals

Virginia covid-19
(© Ingo Menhard –

Gov. Ralph Northam has issued an executive order to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at Virginia’s state-operated psychiatric hospitals.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commonwealth’s psychiatric hospital system averaged 95 percent or more of total bed capacity and many have experienced an increase in admissions, at times exceeding operating bed capacity, through the month of July. The need to isolate or quarantine patients with confirmed or suspected diagnoses of COVID-19 has placed increased demands on state-operated psychiatric hospitals and further reduced bed capacity.

The Code of Virginia requires these facilities to admit individuals under emergency custody for a mental health crisis who meet the criteria for temporary detention when no other inpatient bed can be identified.

Executive Order Seventy directs that when state hospitals are operating at 100 percent of their total bed capacity, they will not serve as the facility of temporary detention for individuals who are not under emergency custody. The order encourages law enforcement to ensure a bed is available before taking a new admission to a state hospital and requires a medical screening for COVID-19 and other acute medical conditions before transferring a patient to a state hospital.

The order also requires timely updating of the statewide acute psychiatric bed registry and establishes clear expectations for communication regarding state hospital discharges.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created significant challenges for Virginia’s psychiatric hospitals and the individuals in crisis who rely on their services,” Northam said. “This executive order will help ensure that our Commonwealth can continue to provide high quality behavioral health care and treatment, while protecting the health and safety of patients and staff and mitigating the spread of the virus within these congregate settings.”

Virginia’s state psychiatric hospitals are operated by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services. As of Aug. 17, there were 79 positive cases of COVID-19 in state hospitals, which includes 50 patients and 29 staff members. There are outbreaks in four of the 12 state hospitals and centers, and three of those hospitals have temporarily stopped taking new admissions based on recommendations from the Virginia Department of Health.

These facilities include Piedmont Geriatric Hospital in Burkeville, where admissions are on hold as of July 14; Southern Virginia Mental Health Institute in Danville, where admissions are on hold as of July 28); and Northern Virginia Mental Health Institute in Fairfax, where admissions are on hold as of Aug. 13.

The fourth facility is designed using separate, small homes that facilitate quarantine so closure is not necessary.

“Our 12 state hospitals and centers have worked extremely hard throughout this pandemic to fight COVID-19 and protect staff and patients,” said DBHDS Commissioner Alison Land. “The governor’s order helps prioritize patients in crisis so that state hospitals do not receive patients with complicated medical conditions, such as COVID-19, that they are not equipped to take. We will work with our partners to carry out this order and ensure that the state hospital safety net is preserved.”

Additional information on COVID-19 cases in the Virginia’s state-operated psychiatric hospitals can be found at

Executive Order Seventy will remain in effect throughout the COVID-19 state of emergency. The full text of this executive order is available here.