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State legislators reach compromise on mental health

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By Landmark News Service

RICHMOND — Virginia lawmakers have reached a compromise on reforming mental health policies that satisfies the state senator whose personal tragedy inspired this round of revision to state psychiatric protocols.
The negotiated deal extends emergency custody orders to 12 hours — the current maximum is six-hours — and requires state hospitals to take patients after eight hours if another bed isn’t found, Sen. Creigh Deeds said.
Deeds hopes that means people in psychiatric crisis will no longer be discharged, or streeted, when they need treatment.
That’s what happened to his 24-year-old son Austin “Gus” Deeds last November when he was released from hospitalization from when the emergency custody order he was held under expired. The next day, the younger Deeds attacked his father before taking his own life at their Bath County home.
Fallout from that episode prompted official reviews of the circumstances, a slew of bills and proposals to pump millions more into state mental health funding.
Controversy hangs over one study by the State Inspector General’s Office — it’s been delayed and the lead investigator on it resigned in protest of his report being sanitized in such a way as to “diminish the report’s usefulness.”
Deeds expressed disappointment about that, but on March 8 he was focused on the policy changes achieved by the General Assembly.
“Frankly, it’s more than I could have hoped for,” said Deeds, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for attorney general and governor in 2005 and 2009, respectively.
“This legislation will ensure no one is streeted,” he added.
That phenomenon was chronicled in a 2011 report by the state inspector general for mental health, which cited 200 “streeting” instances from April 2010 through March 2011, when people who met detention criteria were released due to lack of psychiatric accommodations.
Deeds’ son was discharged from a hospital on Nov. 18 when a clinician from Rockbridge Area Community Services Board failed to find psychiatric placement within six hours.
Several private hospitals in the region subsequently said they had bed space that day.
Under the compromise plan, the clock on a magistrate-issued emergency custody order starts ticking when a law enforcement officer retrieves the subject of the order.
It also aims to improve coordination by stipulating that law enforcement contact the local community services board, public mental health agencies that provide crisis services, when retrieving a patient.
The compromise blended from a series of House of Delegates and Virginia mental health bills also requires the state to have a real-time psychiatric bed registry in place.
Deeds had proposed a 24-hour emergency custody period, while a House bill called for an eight hour maximum.
The 12-hour accord will be in place at least four years, Deeds said, noting that could expire if a study required by companion legislation finds only eight hours is needed to place people in psychiatric beds.
The mental health accord also increases from 48 to 72 hours the time someone civilly committed can be involuntarily held under a temporary detention order.
“This is a good compromise that achieves every goal I had,” said Deeds.