Virginia mental health regulation changes proposed in General Assembly

Deeds was stabbed by his son after he was released from an involuntary mental hold. Photo: Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. (AP/WJLA) - A Montgomery County lawmaker has proposed changes to Virginia's laws on holding people involuntarily for evaluation and treatment in psychiatric emergencies.

According to The Richmond Times-Dispatch, Republican Del. Joseph Yost has introduced bills to lengthen the deadlines of orders to hold people in emergency custody or temporary detention, as well as allowing a temporary detention order to be issued before a bed is secured in a psychiatric facility.

All three proposals aim to fill a gap in Virginia's mental health system that became apparent in November when state Sen. Creigh Deeds of Bath County was attacked by his son Gus, who then klilled himself. Gus Deeds had been released from emergency custody just 13 hours earlier.

"These are issues that have been at the top of my list of concerns," said Yost, who made improving the mental health system a priority in his first term in the House of Delegates.

The Deeds tragedy has focused attention on the emergency psychiatric evaluations and legal limits on how long someone can be held involuntarily. Gus Deeds was released from an emergency custody order because the Rockbridge Area Community Services Board could not secure a psychiatric bed before the six-hour deadline on the order expired, the board has said. Deeds stabbed his father multiple times the next morning before fatally shooting himself.

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The loss of Deeds now has Virginia state leaders looking at how to improve the mental health system – including the availability of beds in psychiatric facilities.

"It's very fluid because I may have a bed available now but it may not be available in an hour," explains Zoe Ann McCleary, who deals with this issue every day at Dominion Hospital in Falls Church.

Republican Delegate Joseph Yost is proposing that a judge be allowed to use a temporary detention order, or TDO, even if a bed has not been secured in the allotted six-hour time frame. He also wants to extend the time of emergency custody orders from six to eight hours, and extend the time limit on temporary detention from 48 to 72 hours – with a new minimum of 24 hours.

"It's fresh in everybody's mind; it's brought a new look on the mental health system ...There's a lot that we need to address and to drill down on in Virginia, says George Braunstein, Director of the Fairfax-Fells Church Community Services Board, which coordinates mental health services.

Braunstein supports Yost’s proposals, but wants a bigger financial commitment from state leaders:

"I don't want to accuse them of not caring, so much as that we hope to be of the same level of priorities as some of these other very important services people need."

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