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Deeds Commission Continues Work, At Least Through 2021

The Virginia State Capitol building.

In 2014 – after the tragic loss of his son to suicide – Virginia Senator Creigh Deeds convinced other legislators to create a commission to help improve the state’s delivery of mental health services.

The commission was set to wrap up its work this year. But during this year’s General Assembly session, lawmakers approved continuing it for at least another two years.

“We’re making strides…it’s a long process,” said Democratic Senator Creigh Deeds, right after the Senate adjourned on Sunday morning. He says he’s happy with progress this year to keep mental health a priority.

Lawmakers approved $7.2 million for additional nurses and psychiatrists in state hospitals, as well as $5.1 million to provide permanent supportive housing for people living with serious mental illness.

“But I still know that the biggest work is ahead of us,” Deeds said.

Deeds points to a growing number of people being sent to state hospitals – and people who’ve been stuck there for years, waiting to receive services in the community instead.

A report from the University of Virginia released to the commission late last year cited  a dramatic rise in involuntary admissions to state psychiatric hospitals from 2014 to 2018. Over the same time period, involuntary admissions to private hospitals have fallen.

Then there’s the growing group of people on an “extraordinary barriers list,” meaning those who’re clinically ready to be discharged from state hospitals but  who’ve been waiting for more than 14 days for services in the community that aren’tavailable.

“We have to be able to figure out what to do with that population before we can ultimately figure out what to do about our hospital situation,” Deeds said.

The commission has also been looking at how mental health services are provided in jails where there are currently no standards.  Legislation to change that passed this year.

Legislation also cleared both chambers to require more in-depth reporting about the use of what’s known as solitary confinement - also referred to as “restrictive housing” - in state prisons.

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Megan Pauly reports on early childhood and higher education news in Virginia
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