Governor’s taskforce meeting mental health solutions

Members from each branch of the Virginia legislature and health officials from across the commonwealth collaborated on improvement and implementation of mental-health crisis response at an April governor’s taskforce meeting.

Despite ongoing turmoil throughout the state government over the issue of including Medicaid expansion in a final budget, legislators from both chambers and the governor’s office agreed that the recently-passed mental health crisis response bills should receive ample funding.

"Even though we don’t have a budget, we have a basic consensus between the House and the Senate as far as funding level (for mental health crisis response bills)," said Sen. Emmett Hanger, R - Mount Solon. "I think the Assembly, when we do get around to passing the budget, will hopefully anti-up the appropriate resources. Not enough, but enough to fund the strategies that were put forth in the legislation,"

Issues surrounding Virginia’s mental health response system have gained additional public scrutiny since the November 2013 incident involving Sen. Creigh Deeds, D - Charlottesville, and his then 24-year-old son, Gus. Deeds was stabbed multiple times by his son who then committed suicide at their home in Bath County on Nov. 19, hours after being released from custody because no psychiatric beds could be located in the eight-hour window required by state law.

In addition to ramping up state funding for mental health, the General Assembly has passed multiple bills to make the state’s response system more efficient. Among the most pressing issues is the number of hospital beds available throughout the commonwealth.

The proposed House budget includes $10 million dedicated to making sure there always is a bed available within a two-hour time frame. Accompanying legislation includes Senate Bill 260 and House Bill 1232, which institute a web-based acute psychiatric bed registry containing real-time information about available beds in facilities across the state.

Additionally, emergency custody orders will be valid for periods of eight hours instead of four with a possible two-hour extension.

Secretary of Health and Human Resources Bill Hazel said the problem of mental health response is not merely in funding or time allotment, but in how response is being currently handled.

"I sat down with some of the members of the House of Appropriations, and talked to (Acting Commissioner of Behavior Health and Developmental Services John Pezzoli) and I said we’re playing small ball here," Hazel said. "Six hours, eight hours, 12 hours isn’t the solution. We do have real law enforcement problems on the other side."

Hazel also said the current problem is that patients who need immediate care are being held up by the law-enforcement end of crisis response. Impending legislation will speed up the process by creating more efficient means of communication between community services boards and state facilities. If the nearest state facility is at capacity at the time of the emergency, there needs to be an immediate search for an alternative facility for temporary detention.

"If you have a crisis assessment center you at least have a place to get away from the constraints on law enforcement and initiate the treatment," Hazel said.

According to Pezzoli, mental-health crisis response has been a longstanding unresolved issue in Virginia. Pezzoli opened his April speech at Governor’s Task Force meeting by quoting a 2001 Richmond Times-Dispatch article written by Michael Martz, who also was in attendance.

Thirteen years ago, Martz wrote that hospitals in the Richmond area had to look as far as Northern Virginia for available psychiatric beds where patients can be treated."

"If it was bad then it’s worse now, although the actions have changed," Pezzoli said. "Now it’s Northern Virginia looking for beds in the Richmond area, but it’s (placement) also a national issue."

The proposed House of Delegates budget includes about $38 million in new mental health funds. Delegate Robert Bell, R – Charlottesville, said the emphasis on improvements will include reducing the numbers of unexecuted temporary detention orders, additional training for clinicians and improving care for minors.

"Nobody thinks (the legislation) will solve all the problems but it was what we could identify as we went forward," Bell said.

On top of the long-term issues at hand, Hazel said emergency psychiatric care for minors has been increased since the incident at the Deeds’ household in Bath County.

"Since the incident in November -- in an abundance of caution -- we are seeing an increase in referrals for (temporary detention orders) issued," Hazel said. "One would expect that our adolescent unit at (Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents) is running at near capacity. So, if we continue to see that we’re going to have some real issues related to capacity for children and adolescents.

"That’s something that the department, private providers, hospitals are all working on right now so we have a good path to be sure that no one (falls) through the cracks," Hazel said.

The General Assembly re-convened its session this past week as it continues to address unresolved legislation and the pending state budget. If the budget is not finalized by July 1, the state government could face a shutdown.
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Henrico Master Gardener training program accepting applications through Oct. 27

The Henrico County Office of Virginia Cooperative Extension is accepting applications for its next volunteer Master Gardener training program, which provides instruction in all aspects of horticulture.

Applications for the 2018 training program will be accepted through Friday, Oct. 27. Classes will be held from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays from Jan. 16 through March 22. > Read more.

Henrico Schools to host Oct. 30 job fair

Henrico Schools will host a job fair Oct. 30.

The event, to be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Fairfield branch library, is designed to attract potential full-time and substitute registered nurses, instructional assistants, bus drivers and school nutrition workers. > Read more.

Henrico Police to participate in ‘Tip a Cop’ Oct. 21

Henrico County Police Division and the Virginia Division of Capitol Police are participating in “Tip-A-Cop” to Support the Special Olympics Saturday, Oct. 21.

From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. that day at Red Robin, 11784 West Broad Street, members of the two agencies will be working for tips as a donation to the Special Olympics. > Read more.

Participants sought for ‘Walk to End Alzheimer’s’

The Richmond Walk to End Alzheimer’s will be held Saturday, Nov. 4, at Markel Plaza in Innsbrook, and the Alzheimer's Association of Greater Richmond is seeking participants.

The event, one of three walks the association will hold in its service area this year (the Middle Peninsula-Northern Neck walk was held Oct. 7 and the Fredericksburg walk Oct. 14) raises money to help the association fight the disease, which affects more than 26,000 people in the metro Richmond region. > Read more.

Fairfield meeting Oct. 25 to focus on cybersecurity

Henrico County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman and Fairfield District Supervisor Frank J. Thornton will hold a constituent meeting Wednesday, Oct. 25 to discuss cybersecurity.

Thornton also has invited candidates who will be seeking election to local offices on Tuesday, Nov. 7 to introduce themselves. > Read more.

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