The new year will be marked by the opening of an inspirational new mental health facility, the result of Virginia leaders and citizens coming together to transform mental health care for our children. Former Virginia Treatment Center for Children patient Hallie Hovey-Murray says it best:
Virginia has had much to be proud of in recent decades, including national best in class rankings in economic competitiveness, education, state parks and quality of life. Mental health care is not one of those areas. And for many years, children’s mental health has been even less of a priority in Virginia than adult mental health. I should know. I spent my childhood struggling with that system, where the autism spectrum was for years confused with mental health diagnoses.
VTCC helped turn my life around. I was not able to even attend school at age 10 but I was a college graduate by age 20 and a law student by age 21. I am grateful for these positive outcomes but also was determined that no child in the future should have to endure an antiquated, institutional looking facility. It was certainly not the ideal look of a place for children struggling with disabilities and mental health issues.
Virginia has an opportunity to turn the page and begin the long-delayed journey to lead the way in children’s mental health care with the 2018 opening of the new VTCC at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU’s Brook Road Campus. VTCC has long been the best in Virginia for children’s mental health. With a new inviting and family-friendly facility, and reinvigorated fundraising, VTCC is poised to fulfill the vision of becoming the best nationally.
The advocates for the facility were all volunteers — parents, family members, friends and former patients. The work took three years from a small meeting at Starbucks in 2010, to planning money in the 2012 budget, to facility funding in the 2013 Appropriation Act.
The new VTCC came about from the kind of bipartisan leadership Virginia at its best is known for. Virginia’s policy makers of both parties listened. And they acted. In this cynical, partisan, angry era, that’s not how it is supposed to work. Important issues are supposed to be caught up in wrangling, gridlock and divisive rhetoric. That’s not what happened here.
I encourage everyone to learn about VTCC’s services, and to help with the substantial work yet to be done to make Virginia a beacon of hope and a center of excellence for children’s mental health care.
I will close by stating something that we say too seldom in our social media era.
Thank you, Delegate O’Bannon, Senator Hanger and Senator Howell for sponsoring the budget amendment.
Thank you, Senate Finance and House Appropriations staff for helping behind the scenes.
Thank you, President Rao and VCU leadership for letting us make the case. Thank you, Governor McDonnell for recommending the all-important initial planning money.
Thank you, Senator Colgan, Speaker Howell, Senator Stosch, Senator Ruff and Majority Leader Cox for using your leadership roles to help make this happen.
Thank you, retired DGS director Rich Sliwoski and team for keeping this on the radar.
And thanks to all the volunteers who helped show the way.
We read a lot about public policy failures. Let’s celebrate this public policy success for Virginia’s children.