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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.

by Ethan Rothstein — February 11, 2014 at 11:45 am 810 0

Virginia Capitol (photo courtesy Del. Bob Brink)(Updated at 12:25 p.m.) In a bipartisan effort, the Virginia Senate passed sweeping mental health reform yesterday.

The bill, SB 260, establishes a psychiatric bed registry, extends the maximum duration of temporary custody from four to 24 hours and establishes and “clarifies procedures for placement of those subject to an involuntary temporary detention order,” according to a Senate Democrats press release.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath County), who police say was stabbed by his son, Austin, in the face and chest before Austin Deeds shot himself in November. Austin Deeds had undergone a psychiatric evaluation but was not admitted to a hospital because no bed was available.

Sen. Barbara Favola (D) was a co-patron of the bill, and announced its 38-0 passage Monday with a press release, below:

Senate Bill 260, of which Senator Favola is a co-patron, has passed the Senate today, providing a safety net for individuals suffering from mental illnesses. When an individual is evaluated under an emergency protection order and a determination is made that a temporary detention order (TDO) is needed, the bill ensures that a psychiatric bed will be available.

The bill will protect Virginia residents from the potential threats associated with mental health patients by providing sufficient time to determine the degree to which they are a threat to themselves and to others. The psychiatric bed registry will benefit these patients by guaranteeing them secure facilities in which they can be detained and will facilitate efficiency in law enforcement and crisis response services.

Furthermore, the liberty given to local community services boards to determine alternative facilities for such patients will also ensure their personalized, and therefore improved, treatment. This is filling an important hole in the mental health safety net.

Senator Favola said “Ensuring the availability of a psychiatric bed is crucial to providing much needed care.”

Under the current system, if a bed is not available a judge will not issue a TDO even if the individual needs a more comprehensive evaluation and a treatment plan.

by Peter Rousselot — January 23, 2014 at 1:30 pm 308 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 RousselotA tragic incident in Bath County, Va. — in which the son of State Sen. Creigh Deeds attacked his father with a knife and subsequently shot himself to death — once again has exposed the many flaws in Virginia’s public mental health system.

In another tragedy earlier last fall, a mentally-unstable employee of a government contractor, who had worked on many assignments around the Metro area (including in Arlington), shot multiple victims to death at the D.C. Navy Yard.

The Deeds incident brought into sharpest focus flaws in Virginia’s record keeping regarding the availability of openings to hold mentally ill individuals who might pose a danger to themselves or others. It also highlighted the need to re-examine standards for involuntary detention. However, I believe the mental health area that is most in need of reform is the longer-term care and treatment of individuals who cannot afford care for themselves.

At various points during their lives, large numbers of the mentally ill can be:

  • in school
  • in hospitals
  • in jail
  • living in a home
  • homeless
  • employed part time
  • unemployed

In any of those settings, these individuals can be: improving, stable, declining, or dangerous to themselves or others.

The challenge for Virginia is to develop a mental health system that provides comprehensive, consistent and continuous treatment for all eligible residents — regardless of in which of the above categories they happen to fall at any given time.

One key to improving treatment is to develop an electronic records system to capture critical information about diagnoses, past treatment and recommendations for the future. We must avoid a “silo” approach in which one or more Virginia public or non-profit institutions treat an individual for mental health issues, and then keep the information stored away where it cannot be accessed later by other mental health professionals. With due deference to patients’ privacy rights, such a records system must be accessible electronically by subsequent treatment providers.

A second key to improving treatment is a combination of increased state and local funding so that eligible individuals can receive appropriate care while living in the setting that best fits their mental health status.

Any of us could be the next victim of an act of violence perpetrated by a mentally-disturbed person. Let’s work together in a bipartisan way to reform Virginia’s mental health system.

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.

by ARLnow.com — December 10, 2012 at 6:30 pm 3,851 47 Comments

A nonprofit will be allowed to house six adults with mental illnesses in the Alcova Heights neighborhood, despite objections from neighbors.

Since April, a single-family house at 3704 2nd Street S. has been operating as a low-barrier group home for four (4) adults with mental illnesses transitioning from homelessness. New Hope Housing, the Alexandria-based nonprofit that operates the dormitory, has been seeking a use permit to increase the maximum number of adults housed at the dormitory to six (6).

The use permit request drew criticism from neighbors at Saturday’s Arlington County Board meeting.

Residents told the Board that there was a lack of supervision and communication from the nonprofit for the first 4-5 months that the group home — called Susan’s Place — was in operation. Several neighbors described residents of the shelter cursing and spitting at them as they walked by, a resident who sat in a broken chair in the front yard talking to himself until midnight, and other disturbances. Residents and neighborhood representatives said neighbors were not notified that the group home would be opening, and didn’t know who to contact with concerns.

New Hope Housing Executive Director Pamela Michell told the Board that the problems went uncorrected for several months because a key staff member was on an extended personal leave, working on a master’s degree in social work. She said the organization typically doesn’t give neighbors a heads up when they open a new group home because of fair housing laws, but called that a mistake in retrospect.

“There was a lack of communication,” she admitted. “We did not come and talk to the neighborhood. That was obviously a mistake.”

Still, Michell said the organization was not aware of any problems during the first few months the group home was open. She said a staff person was on-site during that time, and disputed the assertion of neighbors that they made a reasonable effort to voice concerns about resident behavior.

“Frankly, no one knocked on our door and said there was a concern,” Michell said. “Since the staff person didn’t observe it and since nobody complained, we didn’t know there was something that needed to be addressed.”

In a letter to county staff, the Alcova Heights Citizens Association said they only obtained information about New Hope Housing when an attorney for the organization contacted them seeking support for expansion of the group home. The first meeting between neighbors and New Hope staff took place on Aug. 14.

“This appears to be a lapse in management,” County Board member Jay Fisette said to Michell. “You guys did something wrong.”

Fisette and other Board members were swayed, however, by accounts that problems with the group home have largely been corrected since that meeting. They were also supportive of conditions for the use permit agreed to by New Hope Housing, including 24-hour on-site supervision, a neighborhood liaison who can be reached by phone by residents, an administrative review after 5 months and a County Board review in 9 months.

“Because it has improved… I think this is going to work,” Fisette said. “Six people, five people or four doesn’t really matter. It’s the management issues around it.”

Fisette also noted that many of the residents who expressed concerns about the group home also expressed support for New Hope’s overall mission to help the homeless.

The Board approved the use permit by a 5-0 vote.

Board member Chris Zimmerman echoed Board Chair Mary Hynes in commending the “vital function in our community” that nonprofits like New Hope play in helping to combat homelessness.

Photo via Google Maps

by ARLnow.com — June 21, 2010 at 6:40 am 455 1 Comment

The National Alliance on Mental Illness is looking for a few good barristers.  Here’s the listing from Volunteer Arlington:

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness, seeks volunteer attorneys and law students to provide general legal information and referrals (not legal advice) to people affected by mental illness issues.

NAMI’s 1,100+ affiliates engage in advocacy, research, support and education. Its members are families, friends and people living with major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder.

Volunteers must have law degree or be in law school, have good oral and written communication skills, sensitivity to people affected by mental illness issues, and conscientious work habits. Must be available at least 4 hours a week between 10 am and 6 pm weekdays for, ideally, at least 6 months.

NAMI is located at 3803 N. Fairfax Drive, in Courthouse. Anyone interested in this opportunity should contact Maggie Scheie-Lurie at 703-516-0689.

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