Bath County Democrat State Senator Creigh Deeds has entered an escalating legislative debate regarding the dire need to improve Virginia’s mental health system. It is likely no other member of the legislature has more first-hand knowledge regarding the cracks in the system than he.
Senator Deeds has filed three bills targeted to close gaps in Virginia’s fragmented mental health system mental health system – especially one to allow a 24-hour window for holding someone involuntarily under an emergency custody order instead of the maximum of six hours now allowed.
Sadly, Senator Deeds’ family experienced the worst case scenario on November 19th when 24-year-old Austin “Gus” Deeds stabbed his father, Senator Deeds, repeatedly outside their Millboro home and then shot himself to death. Just 13 hours prior to that incident, Gus had been released from an emergency custody order for a mental health evaluation when a bed had not been secured for him within the current 6 hour timeline allowed.
Said Deeds, “My son was let go that night. I think that was irresponsible.”
The legislation proposed by Deeds fulfills a promise he made a week after his son’s death to change a system that fails many Virginia families, not just his own.
“I’m not by myself in this,” he said.
Besides the legislation to increase the holding time from 6 hours to 24, Deeds also filed legislation that would require the Behavioral Health Department to report by December 1st on a new review of state requirements for the qualifications, training and oversight of people who perform mental health evaluations. It would also create a Web-based registry for acute psychiatric beds that would require every state facility, community services board or behavioral authority, and private providers licensed by the state, to keep an up-to-date account of available beds.
Virginia has considered creating such a registry since 2002 and appeared ready to finally move forward on it as recently as July 2012, but the work was never completed. Senator Deeds may not have been stabbed repeatedly and his son, Gus, might still be alive had it been as numerous facilities across the state reported they had beds available the night in question, but no one asked.
As it is, mental health official expect to launch a statewide registry March 1st. It is hoped the work will be completed this time in order to save other families from tragedies like that of Senator Deeds’.