When Michael Sessoms returned from service in Iraq, he thought everything was fine.
But then the nightmares started. He couldn’t sleep. He distanced himself from family. Eventually Sessoms started self-medicating with a bottle of vodka, just to get some sleep.
By that point his daughter told him the obvious: He was in crisis and had post-traumatic stress disorder.
Sessoms, now a pastor at Little Union Baptist Church in Dumfries, was able to get the help he needed, but he wants others to be served as well.
“I was one of the fortunate ones,” he said.
To help people like Sessoms, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors on Tuesday signaled its intention to create a 24-hour crisis receiving center in the county during its meeting. The center would offer crisis stabilization services.
Before the board’s meeting, Sessoms was joined by several community advocates of Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement to hold a news conference supporting the center.
The state defines crisis stabilization services as direct interventions to avert emergency psychiatric hospitalization or institutional placement for people suffering mental health crises.
County staff presented a proposal for 26,300 square feet to house a crisis stabilization unit with 16 adult and eight youth beds, plus 16 adult and eight youth observation recliners. The unit would accept drop-offs and people under temporary detention orders to connect them with treatment and services.
The presentation was in response to a March directive by Supervisor Andrea Bailey, D-Potomac. “This is needed to holistically heal minds in our community,” Bailey said.
The program is estimated to require $6.4 million in startup costs. Annual ongoing expenses were estimated at $17.3 million. The expenses would be partly offset by $8.4 million to $10.3 million in revenue and $7 million to $8.9 million from other state and local funding sources.
The county had a regional crisis stabilization unit with six beds, but the company operating it consolidated the program with one in Fairfax to provide a 16-bed facility in Chantilly. The local program ceased operations June 30.
The problem has been exacerbated after Virginia halted new admissions at five of the eight state-run hospitals earlier this month. The Northern Virginia Mental Health Institute in Fairfax halted admissions on Monday, bringing the total to six.
The Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services estimated that nearly 1,000 residents need crisis services each month.
According to Prince William Community Services Board estimates, 42% of adults and 70% of youth placed in temporary detention orders in 2020 had to be transported outside Prince William because no inpatient beds were available locally.
The distance to the facility affects other services because police officers who place someone under a temporary detention order for transportation to a facility must stay with that person until a bed is available. Lt. Mike Day, a supervisor of the county’s co-responder program, said that from January to March, officers logged more than 3,000 hours in those roles. On that trajectory, the time spent waiting for beds would be equivalent to six or seven full-time officers.
Lisa Madron, executive director of the Prince William Community Services Board, said that wait times for inpatient beds over the past two years were more than 96 hours, or four days, for 39% of adult visits and 79% of youth visits.
Day said the program would free resources to be used on other calls. “This could be an important resource.”
During the news conference, advocates called on the state to allocate funding from the American Rescue Plan stimulus package for crisis stabilization services.
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity … to invest in transformational change,” said the Rev. Kenneth Nixon, associate pastor at First Baptist Church in Manassas.
The board directed county staff to find funding for the program.
“Mental health is an issue in our society,” said Board Chair Ann Wheeler, D-At-Large. “It is no longer something we can ignore.”