Lawmaker files bills to address mental health gaps

Posted at 6:52 PM, Jan 02, 2014
and last updated 2014-01-02 19:10:41-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)--A state senator in the headlines at the center of a violent stabbing and the suicide of his son. It was the news that stunned family, friends and other lawmakers across the Commonwealth last November.

As details emerged, so too did a story of Creigh Deeds' son who had mental issues and was released from an emergency custody order because officials could not secure a psychiatric bed before the six hour deadline on the order expired.

State delegate Joseph Yost says this sad story is just one of the reasons he's pushing three bills in the upcoming General Assembly session.

"It's a very important topic that can easily and often be overlooked,” Yost said. “What people should know is that between twenty-five percent and one third of the population has a mental illness.”

“Everybody knows somebody with mental health problems. It's important we make sure these illnesses are treated like any other illness," Yost explained.

His first bill, HB 241, proposes to increase the maximum amount of time that a person can be held under a temporary emergency order from 48 hours to 72, with a minimum of 24 hours.

The second bill, HB 242, deals with the custody orders and it puts an additional two hour extension on that. Right now, Yost said that magistrates can issue an emergency custody order for up to four hours and then law enforcement or community services personnel can apply for a two- hour extension and this would put another two hours on top of that.

Delegate Yost says the idea is to buy time not only for the patient who desperately needs the help, but also for emergency personnel workers.

"It gives emergency services personnel a bit more time to go through the process with the individual and then it gives the individual more time if they are civilly committed, to be in a hospital setting and to get treatment," Yost explained.

Yost’s last bill, HB 243, deals with emergency custody orders, and allowing magistrates a little more leeway to go ahead and issue a temporary detention order without a psychiatric bed actually being found. Yost says that would be done with the understanding that workers will act in good faith to continue to search for a bed in a facility that can help the patient.

They're bills he's hoping will gain bipartisan support and ultimately save lives. Yost pointed out that the first proposal is a carryover bill he introduced last year which he says unfortunately didn't pass because of fiscal concerns.

He said he's now encouraged that Gov. Bob McDonnell put $1.3 million into his outgoing budget to cover that particular piece of legislation.