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Mental health bills unveiled

Thursday, January 2, 2014


RICHMOND — A Montgomery County lawmaker has proposed changes to Virginia’s laws on holding people involuntarily for evaluation and treatment in psychiatric emergencies.

According to The Richmond Times-Dispatch, Republican Del. Joseph Yost has introduced bills to lengthen the deadlines of orders to hold people in emergency custody or temporary detention, as well as allowing a temporary detention order to be issued before a bed is secured in a psychiatric facility.

All three proposals aim to fill a gap in Virginia’s mental health system that became apparent in November when state Sen. Creigh Deeds of Bath County was attacked by his son Gus, who then killed himself. Gus Deeds had been released from emergency custody just 13 hours earlier.

“These are issues that have been at the top of my list of concerns,” said Yost, who made improving the mental health system a priority in his first term in the House of Delegates.

The Deeds tragedy has focused attention on the emergency psychiatric evaluations and legal limits on how long someone can be held involuntarily. Gus Deeds was released from an emergency custody order because the Rockbridge Area Community Services Board could not secure a psychiatric bed before the six-hour deadline on the order expired, the board has said. Deeds stabbed his father multiple times the next morning before fatally shooting himself.

While a number of hospitals in the region say they had beds available at the time and were not contacted, two state investigations have focused on the time limits for emergency custody and temporary detention, as well as ways to ensure that psychiatric beds can be secured more quickly in a crisis.

Yost proposes an additional two-hour extension on emergency custody orders — now limited to four hours with a two-hour extension — and extending the time limit on temporary detention from 48 to 72 hours, with a new minimum of 24 hours to ensure a thorough psychiatric evaluation. Gov. Bob McDonnell has endorsed both proposed changes.

The third proposal would allow a magistrate to issue a temporary detention order, even if an appropriate bed has not been secured, if the emergency custody order is about to expire. Currently, a magistrate cannot issue such an order unless a psychiatric facility is specified for receiving the person.

“We are aware of his bills, and agree with the policy behind them, but we have not specifically asked him to carry those bills,” McDonnell spokeswoman Taylor Keeney said.

Mira Signer, executive director of the National Association of Mental Illness of Virginia, generally supports the proposed extensions of emergency custody and temporary detention orders. Signer isn’t ready to take a position on the proposal for removing the requirement that a psychiatric facility be specified before a temporary detention order can be issued.

She said legislators must look beyond the proposed statutory changes and spend more on services that enable people to avoid mental health crises that require emergency intervention.


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