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VIDEO: Governor’s Mental Health Task Force Holds First Meeting

January 8, 2014 | Virginia News

Committee established by Executive Order 68 will recommend solutions to improve Virginia's mental health crisis services and help prevent crises from developing. - Richmond, VA News

After suffering a brutal attack at the hands of his mentally ill son, Bath County Senator Creigh Deeds will return to work with the General Assembly Wednesday.

The senator is introducing a series of bills to transform mental health services. The bills seek to extend the time a patient can be held under an emergency custody order, examine training for professionals, and create a statewide registry of hospital beds.

It's all part of Executive Order 68 signed by Governor McDonnell to create a team of experts to improve Virginia's response to mental health services. That team met for the first time Tuesday to create recommendations right away to step up response long-term.

According to the Attorney General's office, every six minutes in Virginia, someone is being committed into mental health care.

"What is it more that state government that state government can possibly do to make sure that we're as much as possible are 100% right, 100% of the time" McDonnell asked.

It's why experts gathered at a round table, including familiar faces in law enforcement.

"[We] have yet to come to a resolution so I'm hopeful that this task force will be able to address some of the concerns were going to raise," said Dana Schrad with the Association of Chiefs of Police.

She is concerned officers across the state have to balance public safety with often transporting mental patients into care.

"Which includes time spent waiting at the medical or mental health facility for the order to be processed and for services to be provided," she added.

Schrad says though it's often the safest solution, it can also  equate to 8 hours of an officer's time - draining city and county resources.

"Taking an officer away from his or her primary law enforcement responsibilities in the locality," she said.

Also at odds - prioritizing who gets a hospital bed and when a patient should be discharged, especially since, over the last 30 years, the number of state beds has decreased every year - starting with nearly 3800 in 1983, to nearly 2600 in 1993. That number then dropped to 1600 in 2003 and just more than 1200 last year.

"What do we do about it so that the next family doesn't have to endure the next heartache?" McDonnell asked.

Another concern is when patients are given a temporary detention order, they can only stay in custody for two days. The Attorney General's Office says 90% of states allow five days.   

These are just a few of the many issues the task force will tackle. It meets again at the end of the month.

This new task force was created in addition to a school safety task force which began last year. The school task force also made recommendations for improving mental health care. This new committee is expected to come up with its final recommendations by October.

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