DINWIDDIE, Va -- Due to a staffing crisis, Virginia is temporarily closing admissions at five mental hospitals to allow reduction of patients through attrition rather than discharges until enough employees can care for patients.

The five facilities make up a majority of the commonwealth’s eight mental hospitals. They are Central State Hospital, Eastern State Hospital, Piedmont Geriatric Hospital, Western State Hospital and Catawba Hospital.

According to a statement from Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services Commissioner Alison Land, the challenges faced today by state hospitals are an “immediate crisis” because the danger is unprecedented and recent admissions are taking place in an environment that is no longer safe.

DBHDS stands at 1547 direct patient support staff vacancies out of approximately 5,500 support staff across their facilities. They have also experienced 108 resignations over the last two weeks. Staff remaining must therefore take on more aspects of work at the facilities.

Since July 1, there have been 63 serious injuries of staff and patients at DBHDS facilities and the department is experiencing 4.5 incidents/injuries per day across state facilities.

In 2014, an enacted “bed of last resort” law led to a 400% increase of admissions under temporary detention orders at state mental facilities. The law prevents people being released from emergency custody if they pose a threat to others.

“The contract staff are increasingly not renewing or leaving before their contract is over,” said Land. “Similar to state staff, contract staff are finding the unrelenting stress, required overtime and dangerous environment exhausting and untenable.”

According to Land, the closures will put pressure on private psychiatric facilities. Virginia will need all available private beds for temporary detention open and every possible step-down and long-term care facility to be ready for patients ready for discharge from state facilities.

“The state hospitals are slowly seeing a reduction in overall census, which should soon make a difference.” said Director Of Communications at DBHDS Lauren Cunningham in an email. “There have been over 80 discharges so far across the five hospitals since the closure, which is slower progress than we’d like, but progress nonetheless.”

Facilities are funded to operate at 90% staffing, but with current vacancies, state hospitals are operating at staffing levels of 60% to 75% while state hospitals are usually operating at 100%+ bed utilization. Safety of both staff and patients has therefore become a significant and serious concern.

The Department is also competing not only with other health care providers for employees, but with employers like Wal-Mart, Target, Sheetz, Wawa, etc, which offer higher starting salaries while those jobs are also significantly less stressful.