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UVA Study Addresses Shortage of Psychiatric Patient Housing - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

UVA Study Addresses Shortage of Psychiatric Patient Housing

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The housing of psychiatric patients is at the center of a study underway right now. One University of Virginia law professor and mental health expert has been working on the issue since the Virginia Tech massacre.

Dr. Richard Bonnie says there have been improvements in the mental health system in recent years but, he adds, it's simply not enough.

New concerns about mental health treatment in Virginia are rising following reports state Senator Creigh Deeds' son Gus was treated Monday under an Emergency Custody Order or ECO, the day before he died of what police say was a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

"Clearly you don't get to a period of crisis evaluation unless there's been some recent behavior that triggers concern,” Bonnie said.

Gus Deeds was released that same day because there weren't any beds available. Bonnie says, even though there have been mental health care improvements since the Virginia Tech tragedy, gaps remain.

A 2005 study by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission dug into the state of Virginia's mental health system, including the shortage of psychiatric beds. It claims the problem with the shortage lies locally, which is why Bonnie is part of a new study to take another look at the problem.

"We're trying to keep abreast of each locality in the state where this happens, where you actually run out of time in the emergency custody order before a bed can be found,” Bonnie said.

In cases like Gus', under an ECO a person can be detained and held for four hours until a mental evaluation can be completed. If further treatment is needed, a temporary 48-hour detention order can be issued.

"The responsibility or the emergency services agency that is conducting this screening of the person is to decide whether there's probable cause to believe that they meet the commitment criteria,” Bonnie said.

But the remaining challenge is finding a bed within that first four-hour period. The current study was started back in April of this year. The data has not yet been analyzed and it is unclear when those results will be available.

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