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JUST IN: VHC to build mental health and rehab facility at former urgent care site

VHC Health could break ground on a new mental health and rehabilitation facility at its old urgent care facility on S. Carlin Springs Road as soon as this year.

Arlington County and VHC Health — the new name of Virginia Hospital Center — announced a joint agreement this afternoon to expand behavioral health and rehab 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.

It will have 40 beds set aside for people with brain and spinal cord injuries, those recovering from strokes and those 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 Chair Christian Dorsey said in a statement. “With the growing demand, mental health services continue to be a priority. We remain committed to expanding capacity and offering services and support for individuals experiencing behavioral health challenges and their families.”

The chair of the VHC Health Board of Directors, Dr. Russell E. McWey, said this expansion of mental health services “has been a long-time priority for the Board and for VHC Health.”

“The Board is pleased to continue serving our community and to champion this facility and advocate for those who are in need in and around Arlington County,” he said in his 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, an adult partial hospitalization program and an outpatient behavioral health clinic.

VHC had originally intended to add a behavioral health unit to its main campus expansion, Deborah Warren, the executive director of the Arlington Community Services Board and the DHS Deputy Director, told ARLnow. Now, per the announcement, the hospital will instead build a 14-bed geriatric behavioral health unit.

The expansion comes as Arlington, Northern Virginia and Commonwealth as a whole are seeing two trends: deepening mental health needs and greater competition for limited healthcare resources.

Advocates have called the current state of mental health care in Virginia a crisis, one prompted by the state’s decision in 2021 to close most state psychiatric hospitals, which were understaffed due to low wages, hazardous working conditions and Covid.

The closures created a bottleneck at remaining facilities and forced private hospitals, including Virginia Hospital Center, to take in more patients. Sometimes, patients are brought to the hospital by law enforcement, and until they are able to be treated, are left to wait in the emergency room — handcuffed to a gurney under the watch of a law enforcement officer. This situation has contributed to burnout for county social workers and police officers.

In response, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced late last year the formation of a task force to come up with ways to remove law enforcement from this process and ensure people get the help they need. VHC Health CEO and President Chris Lane lauded this move in today’s statement.

“VHC Health applauds the Governor and the General Assembly for their commitment to addressing Virginia’s behavioral health crisis and this joint venture will contribute to the Commonwealth’s objective of treating behavioral wellness,” Lane said.

The VHC project also has the support of local lawmakers, per the announcement.

“Improving access to community-based mental health care is a pressing need in every jurisdiction in the Commonwealth. I am proud to see my local hospital, VHC Health, responding to this need in such a patient-centered way. The VHC behavioral health facility will support patients on their journey to wellness,” Virginia Sen. Barbara Favola said.

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 filed, sometime this spring, the project will wend its way through regular county processes, ending with approval from the Arlington County Board to come later this year. VHC Health plans on breaking ground on 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 sat vacant since the acquisition. VHC received county-owned land at N. Edison Street for its expansion project, interior work on which is ongoing until this December.

The Arlington County Board approved demolition of the S. Carlin Springs Road site last fall but did not signal it had plans for the site at the time. VHC will now be rebuying some 5.8 acres of the property. The county will retain the remaining land for future public uses compatible with the facility.

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