Va. to Introduce New Mental Health Protocols

Virginia mental health officials are introducing changes in 2014 to ensure that hospital beds will be available for people who pose a danger to themselves or others.

The promised new protocols follow the Nov. 19 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.

The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services announced the upcoming changes in a report issued late Thursday. The new policy will specify "clear and specific expectations for contacting private hospitals.'' It will also clearly spell out when an emergency mental health worker can contact a state mental hospital to find a bed, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Friday.

The revised policies and protocols, to be issued Jan. 15, will give the directors of state mental hospitals the responsibility of finding beds for people under temporary detention order if none can be found before time runs out on emergency custody orders.

The new protocols and policies will clarify procedures that aren't always in writing or uniformly understood by staff of hospitals and local community services boards.

"It's something we are going to reinforce and clarify and make people understand,'' said John Pezzoli, assistant commissioner for behavioral health services.

The changes will not require additional funding, the department told the News Leader of Staunton.

The proposed reforms follow a report by the inspector general's office that focused on shortcomings in the state's system of emergency services. The services are administered by 40 community services or behavioral health authorities for people in mental health crises.

The report found that 72 people over a three-month period had met the criteria for a temporary detention order, which allows their detention and treatment for up to 48 hours, but the order never was issued.

Some were released because state law does not allow them to be held against their will longer than six hours under emergency custody orders.

The report also found that temporary detention orders were issued after the six-hour deadline for at least 273 people.

While the number of unexecuted or late TDOs represents a fraction of the emergency services cases handled during the study period, the margin for error is small because those who qualify for additional detention have been found to pose a danger to themselves or others, or unable to care for themselves.

The inspector general is investigating what happened to the younger Deeds, who stabbed his father multiple times outside of their Millboro home. He then shot himself fatally with a rifle the morning after his release from emergency custody.

The incident also is under investigation by the licensing division of the state department and Secretary of Health and Human Resources William A. Hazel Jr. He will make recommendations to Gov. Bob McDonnell on how to fix gaps in the system which may have contributed to the fatal sequence of events in Bath.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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