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Peter’s Take: Reforming Virginia’s Mental Health System, Part II

by Peter Rousselot — February 20, 2014 at 1:00 pm 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotIn a January column, I outlined why Virginia’s mental health system desperately needed reform. I mentioned a series of recent tragic incidents of violence perpetrated by mentally ill individuals.

In one of those incidents, the 24 year-old son of state Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) stabbed his father multiple times, and then shot himself to death. “Gus” Deeds had been released from an expired emergency custody order 13 hours before the incident. He was released because an appropriate psychiatric bed for him could not be found before the emergency custody order expired.

In January, efforts were just getting underway to address some of these issues in this year’s Virginia legislative session. We now have passed the mid-point (known as “Crossover”) in the legislative session. Progress is being made toward enacting some of the mental health reforms that are needed.

Both houses of the legislature are calling for significant new investments in the portion of our mental health system that offers mental health treatment to people in crisis situations. This includes new initiatives to:

  • fund more beds at state psychiatric hospitals for patients who are held under temporary custody orders,
  • fund more therapeutic assessment centers to serve individuals in psychiatric crisis situations,
  • reduce the amount of time law enforcement must devote to emergency custody cases, and

The House of Delegates version of the legislation proposes new funding to add 17 new therapeutic assessment centers in the next two years. These centers are locations to which law enforcement personnel can transport people in crisis for psychiatric evaluation to determine whether they pose a threat to themselves or others. The centers are tied to other proposals — referenced above — to expand the duration of emergency custody orders without placing an undue burden on police and sheriff’s departments who transport people in crisis. These law enforcement personnel now have to wait in the center until the evaluation is complete.

This bipartisan legislative progress deserves our support and praise.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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