Delegate seeks fix for state mental health

Published 10:06 pm Thursday, November 21, 2013

A meeting took place in Suffolk on Thursday to examine options for providing immediate care for people suffering from mental illness when beds in mental hospitals cannot be located.

The meeting took on a new dimension following Tuesday’s incident in Bath County, where state Sen. Creigh Deeds’ 24-year-old son, Austin Deeds, stabbed his father repeatedly and then committed suicide by a rifle shot, Virginia State Police believe. Media reports have suggested the younger Deeds had a mental episode earlier in the week, but no bed at a psychiatric facility could be found for him.

However, the focus on Virginia’s services for the mentally ill predates this week’s events. Thursday’s meeting had already been planned and was a follow-up to others that have occurred since the spring.

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Delegate Rick Morris (R-64) held a public safety forum in April with police officers, Commonwealth’s Attorneys and others. The topic of psychiatric crisis came up, and he has been working on it since then, he said.

“We’re trying to get a plan together so we can get funding,” Morris said. “They’re finding all across Virginia that they have this problem. There is a direct need to have some emergency services available.”

Morris said the purpose of Thursday’s meeting, which included officials from Williamsburg’s Eastern State Hospital and regional directors for mental health services, was to establish a framework for some sort of “drop-off center” that could take the place of current options — putting patients in jail, tying up resources by driving them for hours to a bed at an appropriate hospital or releasing them back to their families.

“I’m trying to get a plan together so we can get funding,” said Morris, who would not discuss Deeds’ situation because he didn’t know all the facts. “I’m still trying to learn as much as I can about the issue. I don’t know how we’ve gotten to this point, but I want to move forward.”

Demetrios Peratsakis, executive director of the Western Tidewater Community Services Board, said some steps forward have been taken recently. He noted the Crisis Intervention Team being formed in Western Tidewater, a group that will provide training for police officers to help them improve their interactions with mentally ill members of the public. He also said some Virginia communities, Chesterfield among them, already have emergency programs like that sought by Morris.

He said the first priority is to look at existing programs that could be re-tooled to accomplish the goal of better emergency placements for those with psychiatric needs.