Advocates Push for Mental Health Care Changes Beyond General Ass - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Advocates Push for Mental Health Care Changes Beyond General Assembly

Posted: Updated: Mar 24, 2014 06:16 PM
Senator Creigh Deeds Senator Creigh Deeds

When the Virginia General Assembly went into session in January, the attack on state Senator Creigh Deeds was expected to have a major influence on new state policies about mental health issues. Two months later, things are changing, but some say much more needs to be done.

Last November, Deeds’ son Gus attacked him and then took his own life. Of course the Deeds family tragedy wasn't the first high-profile incident to focus attention on mental health in the commonwealth; money poured in after the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, but much of that funding evaporated during the Great Recession.

In the legislative session that wrapped up over the weekend, lawmakers did make improvements to the mental health system. Under the leadership of people like Deeds, they approved a new real-time psychiatric bed registry and extended the time someone can be held in emergency custody - from six hours to 12 hours - with space in a state hospital guaranteed after eight hours. But funding and resources are still the biggest variables to ensuring quality care in all corners of the commonwealth.

“Inconsistency is one of the biggest challenges with Virginia's mental health system in that what you find in one place differs from what you find in another place in terms of the availability and the kind of care you're going to get,” said Mira Signer, executive director of the Virginia branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Lawmakers will set aside more than $40 million for mental health in the next two-year budget. But that budget is still unfinished, stalled by a disagreement over healthcare expansion under the Affordable Care Act. Mental health advocates support expansion, saying it could pump even more money into improvements.

Lawmakers will return to the state Capitol in two weeks in hopes of finding a compromise.

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