Mental health committee meets in Suffolk
Published 10:32 pm Thursday, September 24, 2015
A state subcommittee studying mental health in Virginia met in Suffolk on Thursday and continues Friday with tours of local health care facilities.
The 12-member Joint Subcommittee Studying Mental Health Services in the Commonwealth in the 21st Century was established by a joint resolution in March 2014. Its formation arose from a renewed focus on the state’s mental health system after the family tragedy that befell the man who would become its chairman — Sen. Creigh Deeds.
In November 2013, Deeds was stabbed at home by his 24-year-old son, Austin C. “Gus” Deeds, who then killed himself. The younger Deeds had just been released from an emergency committal order after no bed could be found to treat him in psychiatric care.
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Sen. John Cosgrove, who represents part of Suffolk, is on the joint subcommittee.
“We’re going throughout the commonwealth studying how the community services boards operate and what the issues are,” Cosgrove said, referring to the government agencies that treat mental health patients. “We’re trying to find the best way to provide mental health services in the commonwealth.”
Many mass shootings — like the one Virginia experienced in 2007 when a gunman opened fire in dormitories and classrooms at Virginia Tech, killing 32 students and faculty — can be traced back to mental health problems, Cosgrove said.
“If we can be proactive instead of reactive, we’ll all be better off,” he said.
The joint subcommittee met in Suffolk’s City Hall for most of the day. It also has met in Staunton and plans to meet in Fairfax in December, Cosgrove said.
Brandon Rodgers, administrator of program and service development for the Western Tidewater Community Services Board, attended Thursday’s sessions. He’ll help lead Friday’s tour of the community services board.
He said he planned to emphasize that the Western Tidewater agency focuses on peer support, telepsychiatry — where patients can have sessions with a physician electronically — and other services it offers “beyond just crisis support.”
He said he wants the legislators to see “the impact of what the legislative agenda has done” and also plans to stress the challenges of administering support in a rural setting.
Part of Thursday’s meeting focused on how to best help mental health patients in the jail system, with presentations by Sheriff Gabriel Morgan of Newport News and Sheriff Ken Stolle, a former state senator, of Virginia Beach.
“It’s easier to lock someone up than to get them help,” Morgan said, adding he would like for crisis intervention training to be required of law enforcement officers by the Department of Criminal Justice Services. “Rather than being in a mental health facility, they’re being institutionalized in jails.”
Morgan, also the chairman of the Hampton Roads Regional Jail board, said 60 percent of the inmates in the facility require psychotropic medications.
“We get no funding for that,” he said. “We have inmates that cost us well over $300 to $400 a day just in medication alone. We can’t continue to sustain that.”
Deeds agreed that training for law enforcement officers is crucial.
“If you have the tools to de-escalate, I think you can improve officer safety and community safety,” he said.
Stolle emphasized the importance of having resources for mental health patients outside of jail, too. He told the story of one inmate who wanted to stay in jail and threatened to commit a crime as soon as he got out so he could get back in.
Sure enough, the man threatened to burn down a judge’s house within days of being released.
“How can you expect a different outcome?” Stolle said. “What I see us doing is eating around the fringes of the problem but not addressing the problem.”
He suggested mandatory outpatient treatment for former inmates as part of the solution.
On Friday, members will tour Western Tidewater Community Services Board, Norfolk Community Services Board and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Hampton.