House, Senate advance mental health bills
Lawmakers say Deeds tragedy shined light on long-term issue
“In the Deeds situation, law enforcement couldn’t find a bed, so he had to be released,” Del. Mason said. “We won’t be releasing someone who needs the help but no bed can be found.”
Following the November tragedy in which Gus Deeds, son of Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Charlottesville, stabbed his father before committing suicide, both the House and the Senate have proposed bills to prevent future incidents. The measures garnered broad, bipartisan support in a series of votes before the legislature left for recess earlier this month.
Deeds proposed SB 260, versions of which passed in the Senate and House unanimously March 8. The bill sets new regulations for the creation of a psychiatric bed registry and the ability to detain mentally ill people for 24 hours instead of six.
Lawmakers introduced similar legislation in the House. HB 478, which also passed both houses unanimously, called for extending the emergency custody period for those whose mental health is suffering from four to eight hours. The bill also required enforcement officers to give people who are in custody a write up of standard procedures and regulations regarding their detention.
The bill also proposed a “Bed of Last Resorts,” which requires a bed to be found for someone who needs the help, said Del. T. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg.
“In the Deeds situation, law enforcement couldn’t find a bed, so he had to be released,” Mason said. “We won’t be releasing someone who needs the help but no bed can be found.”
The bill also changes who is responsible for certain issues involving mental health and law enforcement.
“Right now detention of those in need is an extraordinary burden on local law enforcement,” Mason said. “So we need to relieve some of the pressure off of them.”
Mason said there is room in the budget proposed by Republicans in the House of Delegates for 17 additional house facilities to treat patients.
“Unfortunately, a lot of mental health patients end up in jail because a bed cannot be found, so they are not getting proper care,” Mason said. “These additional beds will get patients the help they need and will help relieve the burden from state police.”
HB 293, introduced by Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, and also passed unanimously, guarantees care from a state facility for an individual receiving a temporary detention order, unless an alternate facility is willing to provide temporary detention.
“This means that there will always a bed [for those who need treatment],” Bell said.
Similarly, HB 1232 requires the Department of Behavioral Health and Development Services to set up a psychiatric bed registry, in which each hospital must keep up-to-date records on their bed availability.
Other measures that have already passed one or both parts of the legislature include the requirement for additional training for clinicians to know how to find a bed, making it easier to transfer from one hospital to the next, and lengthening the temporary detention order from 48 to 72 hours, Bell said.
Support for these bills in both the Senate and the House has not only come in light of the Deeds case.
Recent studies, one by the University released in 2013, have “indicated that this was not a unique problem,” Bell said. “The evidence that this has happened before with the specific incident of what happened with Senator Deeds [made these bills prominent now].”
In the future, Mason said, the measures and standards put into place need to be monitored to make sure they are executed and politicians need to stay on top of reforms to gauge effectiveness.
“It takes big stories, like the Deeds case, to garner public support,” Mason said. “We need to focus on this as a long term need instead of just a temporary concern.”
Bell agreed these measures are only a starting point in working toward long-term goals.
“Our goal this time was to be really focused on the emergency provision of care,” he said. “I think the bigger picture issues would be to try to address more of these issues before they become so acute. If you can do that, it decreases the need for some of the acute care.”
Bell said the next step would be to provide community and voluntary help for people before they hit rock bottom.
The bills followed a committee set-up by then-Gov. Bob McDonnell last fall to study the issue.