Catawba Hospital. Courtesy of Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.
Catawba Hospital. Courtesy of Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.

RICHMOND – A House panel on Thursday unanimously approved a measure sponsored by Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, that would direct the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to study the feasibility of transforming Catawba Hospital into a state-of-the-art campus offering substance abuse treatment and addiction recovery in addition to its current mental health services.

Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke

“We seek to take Catawba Hospital and reimagine what this campus could look like. A whole bunch of organizations have worked for some time to tackle not just substance abuse treatments but the future of mental health care there,” Rasoul told members of the House Rules Committee, referring to a coalition of Virginia Tech, Carilion Clinic in Roanoke, the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, and others.

Located in the western part of Roanoke County, about half an hour from Roanoke City, Catawba Hospital specializes in serving adults who need mental health care. Rasoul’s proposal would expand the hospital’s role in the community.

“This is just one step of many steps,” Rasoul said in an interview after the committee hearing. “It would be a truly transformative project for the region.”

Rasoul said if signed into law, his legislation would require about $3.5 million to fund the study of continuous care and the planning around campus design. “Once we have a plan in place and stakeholders have had their input, the entire project may cost around $200 million, depending on what you integrate,” he added. 

If everything goes according to plan, a first report relating to the continuation of care could be available by the end of the year, while the capital side could take about 12 months, Rasoul said. “We would see how quickly we could push the envelope,” Rasoul said. 

Catawba Hospital opened in 1858 in the Catawba Valley as a healing springs resort to treat tuberculosis patients. The state purchased the 700-acre resort in 1901 and later reopened it as Virginia’s first sanatorium. 

The hospital made news last summer when it was among the five of the state’s nine mental hospitals to halt new admissions for nearly a month during a staffing crisis. 

The House panel referred Rasoul’s bill to the House Appropriations Committee.

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Markus Schmidt is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach him at or 804-822-1594.