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Mental health initiatives announced in Virginia

Gov. Bob McDonnell, pictured in this file photo, on Dec. 10 announced a series of proposals to strengthen mental health resources in the state. Times-Mirror File Photo
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Gov. Bob McDonnell is proposing more than $38 million in state funding over the next two-year budget cycle for critical mental health services and is creating a task force to look at ways to head off mental health crises.

The initiatives announced Tuesday follow the November death of a Virginia state senator's son less than one day after he had been released from emergency custody. Austin "Gus" Deeds attacked his father, Sen. Creigh Deeds, and then killed himself. Virginia mental health officials have already announced other policy changes in response to the fatal sequence of events in Bath County.

"Mental health is something that affects Virginians in every corner of the state," McDonnell said at a news conference in Richmond. "It is a disease and a disability that affects Virginians of all stripes and for some, it's not just something that you read about when there's a tragedy, but it's something that people live with daily."

McDonnell said state officials came to the conclusion that more resources and clarity in policies were needed because navigating the mental health system can be complex.

"Overall I think Virginia has a very, very good and competent mental health system ... but we're always looking for ways to improve it," he said.

The proposals aimed at improving mental health crisis response include expanding the number of beds available for patients at Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, as well as providing additional resources at Western State Hospital in Staunton. The governor also is proposing extending from six to eight hours the time that a person can be kept under an emergency custody order while a bed is sought and extending from 48 to 72 hours the time a person can be placed under a temporary detention order.

Additionally, McDonnell is proposing more than $5 million over the two-year budget to expand the availability of secure crisis intervention team assessment centers so that a person can be held safely for evaluation and to find them a bed without tying up law enforcement.

On the behavioral health treatment and support services side, McDonnell is proposing $7.5 million over the two-year budget to expand outpatient mental health services for older teens and young adults transitioning from school, or early in their adulthood. The proposals also include expanding programs to provide outreach and support for people with serious and persistent mental illnesses, new telecommunications equipment for community services boards to conduct offsite evaluations. Other funding is being proposed for substance abuse and other support and recovery programs.

An executive order issued by McDonnell Tuesday established a task force that will look at ways to further improve mental health services and crisis response. It will include mental health and law enforcement officials among its members and will be co-chaired by the secretaries of health and human resources and public safety.

McDonnell, who leaves office Jan. 11, noted that Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe supports the proposals.

The governor and other officials did not provide an update on numerous reviews related to the Deeds situation as it relates to the state's mental health system, saying it was a time for the family to grieve and recover.


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