Governor seeks changes to Virginia’s mental health care laws and policies

Posted at 9:30 AM, Nov 27, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-27 19:11:18-05

(CNN) -- Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell weighed in on the commonwealth's mental health system Tuesday, more than a week after state Sen. Creigh Deeds' son stabbed his father repeatedly before killing himself.

In an interview with radio station WTOP, the Republican governor also said he thinks the GOP candidate in the Virginia attorney general's race should request a recount after official results Monday showed the Democrat won by a razor-thin margin.

Questions spiked last week about Virginia's mental health system following the tragic incident involving Deeds' family.

The day before the incident, his son, Gus, was taken to a hospital under an emergency custody order. Police confirmed that the 24-year-old was brought in by the local sheriff for evaluation by mental health professionals.

The young man was released after the evaluation because no open psychiatric bed could be located across a wide area of western Virginia, Dennis Cropper, executive director of the Rockbridge Area Community Services Board, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Deeds told The Recorder, a newspaper based in Monterey, Virginia, on Monday that he hopes things will change in Virginia.

"I think there may be a bigger problem here. I am alive for a reason, and I will work for change. I owe that to my precious son," he said.

McDonnell agreed, saying on WTOP that "some action is needed and we will take some decisive action in the coming weeks," regarding bed space at mental health facilities. He said mental health legislation will be a focus for the General Assembly next session.

Last week, McDonnell said on MSNBC he has directed the commonwealth's secretary of health and human resources to conduct a "comprehensive review" of the factors that led to the incident involving Deeds' son.

Virginia law requires doctors to find a bed for a patient under an emergency custody order within four hours or release them. McDonnell said Monday one option could be extending that time window from four hours to possibly six or eight hours.

"We're going to do everything we can to analyze the cause of this, whether there were violations of protocols, whether there need to be changed to the laws--all those things are being looked at," McDonnell said.

Switching to politics, the outgoing Governor was asked whether Republican state Sen. Mark Obenshain should request a recount after the Virginia Board of Elections certified Monday the November 5 election results. The results showed Democratic state Sen. Mark Herring won by far less than 1% of the total vote, meaning Obenshain can ask for a recount.

"If I were him, absolutely," McDonnell said, on whether Obenshain should make the request. Obenshain has until December 5 to make a decision.

McDonnell also found himself in a close attorney general's race in 2005, when he narrowly defeated Deeds, the Democratic candidate, in a recount.

"I feel for both of the candidates," McDonnell said. "They've slugged it out for two years and it ain't over."

He added that he didn't know the results of 2005 recount until December 21 of that year.

"I think both Mark and Mark are going to have a stressful Thanksgiving," he said.

With Herring ruled the official winner, for now, his win means Democrats have swept the three top-of-the-ballot, statewide positions--governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general--for the first time since 1989.

Virginia also voted for President Obama in his re-election bid last year, and the commonwealth has two Democrats for its U.S. Senators. Asked if recent election results signal that Virginia is turning blue, McDonnell said "I don't think you can create any mega-trends."

"For governors races, this is a purple state. People go back and forth," he said.

He added that the House of Delegates is dominated by Republicans, while the State Senate is split evenly (but the chamber's president is a Republican, Lieutenant Gov. Bill Bolling). He also noted that the 2013 Republican gubernatorial candidate, state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, lost by only two percentage points.

"We just got to work harder, raise more money and tell people why our conservative ideas are better," McDonnell said.

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