There is joy in northern Dinwiddie County tonight.
After years of Band-Aids, patches, splints, gauze, slings, crutches, masking tape, electrical tape and millions of miles of chicken wire, Central State Hospital is finally going to get fixed up right. If the governor and local state legislators get their way, a state-of-the-art, cutting-edge mental-treatment medical facility will replace 13 worn-out, late 19th- and early 20th-century, and retro 1970s structures that currently masquerade as a mental hospital, and be ready to open for business by 2024.
Last week, Gov. Ralph S. Northam joined lawmakers and officials on a tour of one of the living facilities used by about 30 patients who for some reason or another have been legally deemed mentally incapable of self-care. What they saw was not a true representation of what mental-illness treatment should be. What they saw resembled a multi-purpose room at an elementary school, bedrooms straight out of the heyday when the YMCA was the place to stay, and public bathrooms that also had to double as patient shower stalls.
The governor called it “eye-opening.” We would add, “jaw-dropping.” Inmates at prisons live in the lap of luxury compared to what we saw.
The General Assembly is meeting Wednesday for its annual veto-override session. That is the time when lawmakers return to Richmond to respond to any vetoes or amendments the governor made of legislation they passed in the regular session.
One of the amendments they will look at is a $315 million capital package to build a facility with the capacity for 300 beds and all of the 21st-century advancements in mental-health treatment at the professionals’ fingertips. Better yet, this shiny new building comes with something that previous promises to rebuild did not -- an actual construction timeframe.
From design to groundbreaking to move-in over the next five years. That’s what the money is for.
Earlier this year, the House and Senate looked at a budget that actually included money for CSH renovation. However, the timeframe was too long and the price tag too expensive, so it was yanked in the hopes of coming up with an alternative.
That alternative will be waiting on the desks of the delegates and senators as they walk into the Capitol Wednesday morning. Proponents say they have the bipartisan support needed to get the money added. Sen, Rosalyn R. Dance and Del. Lashrecse D. Aird are in the catbird’s seat to champion it because they sit on the legislature’s two powerful committees that decide who gets what and how much. Dance calls that an advantage “because we both have seats at the table.”
We call upon the entire General Assembly to agree to this long-overdue overhaul of a mission so vital in our commonwealth. CSH is more than just a treatment facility. It is also the only place in the state where the most criminally insane of the criminally insane in Virginia are brought for housing and treatment.
And we let the light of this so-called beacon dim to the point where, instead of shining in all directions, it is barely seen over the trees that surround the hospital. That’s truly something to hang your head over.
But now, legislators, the time has come to raise those heads, focus those eyes and right the ravages of time and neglect for Central State Hospital.
Heed the governor. Listen to Sen. Dance and Del. Aird. See it for yourself.
Approve the amendment.