Mental Health Initiative Aims to Increase Availability of Mental Health Services throughout Virginia

For Immediate Release
Debbie Oswalt, Executive Director
Virginia Health Care Foundation
(804) 828-5804


Richmond, VA – January 17, 2024 – During a special event at the Virginia General Assembly today, the Virginia Health Care Foundation (VHCF), its private sector partners, and state officials launched VHCF’s new multi-pronged behavioral health initiative Brighter Days Ahead: Addressing Virginia’s Mental Health Crisis. It is designed to address the significant shortage of licensed behavioral health professionals; the paucity of sites providing children’s mental health services; and the mental health and well-being of Virginia’s healthcare safety net providers and their teams.

Virginia is in the midst of a mental health crisis that spans all regions, ages, races, ethnicities, incomes, and occupations,” said Deborah Oswalt, VHCF’s Executive Director. “About one-third of all Virginians reported experiencing a significant number of poor mental health days in the past two weeks in a recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).”

In a CDC Pulse survey for a recent seven-month period, 57% of Virginia parents reported at least one mental health symptom for their children. All of Virginia has been designated a mental health professional shortage area by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration.

“These problems are solvable”, says Oswalt, “but there is no silver bullet. Resolution requires a variety of approaches and multiple stakeholders working together. We are very grateful to have such stakeholders in the foundations and corporate funders which have come together and are providing the financial wherewithal to make our $2 million Brighter Days Ahead (BDA) initiative possible.

The Collis Warner Foundation’s generous challenge grant was the impetus. It was matched by Humana, Sentara Health, the Anne Mullen Orrell Trust at Bank of America; Carilion Clinic; Dominion Energy; and The Claude Moore Charitable Foundation.”

To help address the shortage of licensed behavioral health professionals, BDA will expand VHCF’s Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Scholarship Program and its Boost 200 program, which pays for licensure-required supervision for masters-prepared social workers, counselors, and marriage and family therapists to help them become licensed in Virginia.

Children’s mental health services will become available in five school-based health centers established/expanded by the Nurture Now: Helping Kids Shine component of the initiative. These centers will be targeted to local schools where a significant number of children need behavioral health services and the majority of children are income eligible for the federal free and reduced-price meal program or Virginia’s Medicaid/FAMIS programs (up to 205% FPL). 

The third component of BDA is designed to support the mental health of healthcare safety net providers and their teams. The Safe Haven Initiative, anchored by the Medical Society of Virginia, is a confidential resource that provides medical, dental, behavioral health providers, nurses, and pharmacists  and their families a safe space to address burnout, career fatigue and mental health concerns without the fear of repercussions to their medical license and professional reputation.

“We’re enthusiastic about this latest expansion of our efforts to address Virginia’s mental health crisis,” Oswalt says. “We’re very grateful to our partners who are helping make these solutions possible.”


About VHCF:

The Virginia Health Care Foundation is a non-profit public/private partnership with a mission to increase access to primary health care for uninsured and medically underserved Virginians. The Foundation was initiated by the General Assembly and its Joint Commission on Health Care in 1992. Since its inception, it has funded 536 community-based initiatives throughout the Commonwealth and established multiple programs and partnerships. Combined, they have helped more than 800,000 uninsured and medically underserved Virginians obtain the health care they need.

For more information about VHCF visit For information about its behavioral health initiatives visit or call (804) 828-5804.

Last Updated on January 30, 2024