VHC Health could break ground as early as this year for a new mental health and rehabilitation facility at the old urgent care facility on S. Carlin Springs Road.
Arlington County and VHC Health – the new name of Virginia Hospital Center – announced a joint agreement this afternoon to expand behavioral health and rehabilitation services through the proposed project at 601 S. Carlin Springs Road.
The new facility would have 72 beds dedicated to mental health and substance use recovery. This consists of a 24-bed adult unit, a 24-bed youth unit, a 24-bed “recovery and wellness unit” and five outpatient programs, according to a county announcement.
40 beds will be reserved for people with brain and spinal cord injuries, people recovering from a stroke, and people with neurological and other conditions. Currently, the main VHC campus has 20 beds for patients with these needs.
“We are grateful for our continued partnership with VHC Health in developing facilities to meet the healthcare needs of the Arlington community,” County Board Chairman Christian Dorsey said in a statement. “With growing demand, mental health care remains a priority. We remain committed to expanding capacity and providing services and support for individuals with behavioral problems and their families.”
The Chairman of the VHC Health Board of Directors, Dr. Russell E. McWey, said this mental health expansion “has long been a priority for the Board and for VHC Health.”
“The board is pleased to continue to serve our community and defend this facility and advocate for those in need in and around Arlington County,” he said in its statement.
The new S. Carlin Springs Road facility will house five programs: intensive outpatient programs for adults and children, a recovery and wellness intensive outpatient program, a partial hospitalization program for adults, and an outpatient behavioral clinic.
VHC originally planned to add a behavioral health unit to its main campus expansion, Deborah Warren, the executive director of the Arlington Community Services Board and deputy director of DHS, told ARLnow. Now, according to the announcement, the hospital will build a 14-bed geriatric behavioral health unit instead.
The expansion comes as Arlington, Northern Virginia and the Commonwealth as a whole are seeing two trends: increasing mental health needs and increased competition for limited health care resources.
Proponents have called the current state of Virginia’s mental health system a crisis, prompted by the state’s 2021 decision to close most state psychiatric hospitals, which were understaffed due to low wages, dangerous working conditions and Covid.
The closures created a bottleneck at remaining facilities and forced private hospitals, including the Virginia Hospital Center, to admit more patients. Sometimes patients are taken to the hospital by law enforcement and wait until they can be treated in the emergency room – handcuffed to a stretcher under the supervision of a law enforcement officer. This situation has contributed to a burnout for social workers and police officers in the province.
In response, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin announced late last year the formation of a task force to figure out ways to get law enforcement out of this process and make sure people get the help they need. VHC Health CEO and President Chris Lane praised this move in today’s statement.
“VHC Health applauds the Governor and General Assembly for their commitment to addressing Virginia’s behavioral health crisis and this joint venture will contribute to the Commonwealth’s goal of addressing behavioral wellness,” Lane said.
The VHC project also has the support of local lawmakers, according to the announcement.
“Improving access to community-based mental health care is an urgent need in every jurisdiction in the Commonwealth. I am proud that my local hospital, VHC Health, is responding to this need in such a patient-centered way. The VHC Behavioral Health Institution will support patients on their journey to wellness,” said Virginia Senator Barbara Favola.
Del. Patrick Hope said he is proud “to help facilitate new initiatives across the state to meet community members where they are for their healthcare needs.”
After a formal plan is submitted sometime this spring, the project will work its way through regular county processes, ending with approval from the Arlington County Board coming later this year. VHC Health plans to break ground for its new facility in late 2023 or early 2024 and expects construction to be complete by late 2025.
Arlington County acquired the old VHC Urgent Care in a land swap with the hospital and has stood empty since the acquisition. VHC received county-owned land on N. Edison Street for its expansion project, which will have interior work through December.
The Arlington County Board approved demolition of the S. Carlin Springs Road site last fall, but did not indicate at the time that it had any plans for the site. VHC will now repurchase approximately 5.8 hectares of the property. The county will retain the remaining land for future public use compatible with the facility.