Catawba Hospital. Courtesy of Catawba Hospital.

RICHMOND – A House panel on Thursday unanimously backed legislation directing the Department of Behavioral Health to begin with the transformation of the state-owned Catawba Hospital into a state-of-the-art campus offering substance use disorder treatment and addiction recovery.

Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke.

By a 9-0 bipartisan vote, a Health, Welfare and Institutions subcommittee passed House Bill 2192, sponsored by Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, formally clears the way to moving forward with the $147 million project, as long as the proposal finds support in both houses of the legislature. The House Appropriations Committee in the coming days will weigh Rasoul’s amendment to the state budget that would fund the transformation. 

Del. Chris Head, R-Botetourt County, a committee member, on Thursday called the project a “really important initiative” that is critical for the commonwealth as a whole but also for the Roanoke Valley. 

“Catawba needs a lot of help, and for a lot of the population they serve this is the only option that we’ve got on our side of the state. We really have to do this, it’s where the problem is the most pervasive and particularly on a per capita basis,” Head said.

Catawba Hospital is located in the western part of Roanoke County, about half an hour from downtown Roanoke. During its early days as a sanatorium, the 700-acre property extended up the mountain from the Catawba Valley. The state purchased the resort in 1901 and later reopened it as Virginia’s first state-owned sanatorium. 

Today, the hospital is part of Virginia’s public behavioral health system, specializing in serving adults including geriatric individuals who are in need of mental health care, but also offering a wide array of services, from therapeutic aid (including occupational, music, horticulture and recreation therapy) to traditional medical care, nursing, psychology as well as social work and counseling.

In the summer of 2021, at the height of the pandemic, Catawba was among five of nine state-owned mental hospitals that halted new admissions for nearly a month during a staffing crisis. 

During the 2022 legislative session, lawmakers approved a $750,000 allocation to fund a feasibility study. The 127-page report, which was prepared by the Virginia Department of Health and the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, was released earlier this month.

The study concluded that the rise in substance use disorder cases nationally, and particularly in the Appalachian area of Virginia, over the last 20 years has resulted in an “increased need to treat individuals for substance use disorder and the mental health issues” that often accompany the disease. 

The study recommended for the state to move forward with the Catawba transformation, which cleared the way for Rasoul’s proposal to be considered by the House committee Thursday. 

“What we approved last year was the study and planning of what a state-of-the art, innovative treatment campus could look like for both mental health and addiction recovery,” Rasoul told the panel. 

“We searched high and low, and this would really be a first of its kind, for sure in Virginia but maybe around the country, to be able to integrate acute care, residential treatment, outpatient services as well as a number of other potential services on one campus.” 

Rasoul added that the study found that roughly 50% of people seeking treatment in state hospitals had a substance use disorder. “There is clearly a need and I think there will be a 37% increase over the next decade,” he said. 

“What you have before you is the blueprint as well as the feasibility analysis,” Rasoul said. “I hope that we can send this upstairs and think about how we can better tackle this and be innovative and not just deal with the problem, but really begin to own it.”

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