From time to time, a police cruiser pulls onto the grounds of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salem, carrying a suicidal or potentially violent veteran in the back seat.
It leaves a short time later, after the officer is told that the hospital does not handle emergency custody orders.
“We’re not looking to turn people away,” Dr. Delmar Short, chief of mental health services, said when the issue came up during a mental health summit last week.
As Short explained to the Roanoke police officer who raised the question, the Salem VA is responsible for treating veterans who have already been ordered to a psychiatric center — not the ones who are just entering the commitment process.
And the hospital’s acute care facility, which holds about 30 patients in a secure setting, serves the entire state of Virginia and parts of West Virginia, making it even harder to accommodate local cases, Short said.
The exchange was one of many Thursday during a summit on mental health held at the Salem VA. About 75 participants learned more about the services that are offered — and, in some cases, are not — at the hospital.