Free Lance-Star reporter Chelyen Davis covers Virginia government.
Senate passes Deeds’ mental-health bill
Sen. Creigh Deeds said he knows not to take bills personally.
But, he said Monday, that doesn’t apply to the mental-health reform bill that was inspired by Deeds’ son suicide.
“I can’t do that here. I can’t do that with this bill,” Deeds told senators. “This bill is the beginning of what we need to do if we’re going to treat mental illness with some sort of equity.”
The Senate passed Deeds’ bill by a 38-0 vote Monday.
It extends the time that a person can be detained under an emergency custody order, from six hours to 24, to give mental-health professionals more time to find that person a psychiatric bed.
It also says that if such a bed can’t be found in private hospitals, the state hospitals will provide a bed of last resort.
Deeds has been the face of this session’s push to reform Virginia’s mental-health system after his mentally ill son, Gus, attacked him then killed himself last November.
Deeds had tried to get Gus into a psychiatric hospital the night before the attack, but the current six-hour time limit on emergency custody orders ran out before a bed for Gus was found, and Deeds had to take him back home. The attack happened the next morning.
Deeds said Monday that what happened to Gus was sadly not rare.
“‘I’ve heard from so many people that had similar experiences to what I went through,” Deeds said. “Similar situations happen almost every day.”
Deeds said mental illness isn’t treated with the same seriousness as physical illness and that the changes made in his bill are only the “tip of the iceberg” of what’s needed.
“It’s going to fix some of the front-end problem I hope. But this isn’t the end-all,” Deeds said.
He acknowledged concerns from some, like Sen. Bill Carrico, that a 24-hour emergency custody order period could tie up law enforcement in rural areas.
But he thinks that concern is mooted by the bill’s provision that a state bed be found within eight hours, if a private one wasn’t found.
“The last 16 hours is just a safety net,” Deeds said.
He said there’s a price tag on his proposal, but that such situations — where a bed can’t be found — are not the norm.
“We’re talking about less than one person a day, statewide, who is streeted,” Deeds said. “Every one of these situations is life and death.”
His goal was to fix the system, Deeds said, but also to “just make sure that my son is remembered for his living, rather than his dying.”