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Deeds Case Brings Mental Health to Forefront in VA - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Deeds Case Brings Mental Health to Forefront in VA

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Gus Deeds Gus Deeds
Creigh Deeds Creigh Deeds

The head of the Inspector General Program for Behavioral Health in Virginia says an investigation is underway to find out exactly why Gus Deeds was allowed to be released from emergency custody the day before he stabbed his dad and killed himself. The Washington Post is reporting three nearby psychiatric hospitals did have beds available for Gus.

Rockbridge Community Services Board handled the case, and the Post says Western State, Rockingham Memorial and the University of Virginia Medical Center all had space, but nobody contacted them.

Dennis Cropper, the board’s executive director, would not speak with NBC29 on the Deeds case in particular - although he did tell the Richmond Times-Dispatch Tuesday that Gus was not admitted Monday because there was no room for him - but acknowledged that availability and time constraints can make placing serious cases a challenge.

Here's how the system works: when people have a moment of crisis they either come to an agency on their own, or through a magistrate's order. A professional will then evaluate the person and first try to stick with services - like counseling or a psychiatrist's care - within the area. But, if a person shows homicidal or suicidal symptoms, or a severe inability for self-care, that's when it rises to the level of seeking placement at a hospital.

"I think there is a need for more psychiatric beds within the state. And I understand that the state cannot legislate to private hospitals: you've got to have so many beds. And it gets back to the issue of when there is a need for one more bed, then there's a crisis,” Cropper said.

Albemarle County's crisis intervention team trainer, Detective Michael Wells, says the police department averages two ECOs (emergency custody order) every day.

“The worst thing that can happen is they are physically detained on a civil paper, which may or may not lead to a longer detention. But, it could be the step in the right direction to get someone the help they need to help them cope with problems,” Wells said.

When a magistrate approves an ECO, that gives the board four hours to work with the patient, even if an extension is granted, sometimes it takes much longer to find an opening in Virginia.

The managers at Western State Hospital in Staunton echo what the Washington Post is reporting, that this case never came to their attention. Mental health professionals also say, when a patient comes in and is evaluated, the assessment can only be based on that patient's history and the symptoms shown at the visit. Once he or she leaves, things can improve - or they can deteriorate.

The tragedy surrounding the Deeds family is set against a backdrop of mental health challenges in Virginia, challenges state lawmakers will face anew when they return to Richmond in January.

Mental health advocates say this is just another wake-up call for the commonwealth. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) gave the state a "C" grade in 2009, and says mental health is dramatically underfunded. The state boosted funding for mental health services by $42 million in 2008 after the Virginia Tech shootings, but that funding virtually disappeared during the recession.

Virginia has made some steps recently, addressing children's crisis services and jail diversion services, but Mira Signer, the executive director of NAMI Virginia, says inadequate funding across the state is a the core issue facing mental health services here.

“Services cost money, staffing costs money, beds cost money...at the end of the day, when a person needs help they should be able to get it, so what are some of the barriers preventing that?” Signer said.

Signer says the state needs to address a lack of community-based services and alternatives to hospitalization. But these aren't new concerns, and are bound to come up again in Richmond when lawmakers return next year. With this all hitting close to home, it's hard not to imagine funding for mental health entering that conversation. Governor Bob McDonnell will present his budget proposal to the General Assembly money committees December 16.

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