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'It's an honor to have a law in Irvo's name,' mother says as Virginia governor signs mental health bills

Caroline Ouko: 'Irvo's Law will alleviate the trauma that arises with separation. Our families are part of our mental health and we need them beside us in those tough times.'
Irvo Law Signing
Posted at 9:09 PM, Jun 15, 2024

SUFFOLK, Va. — Gov. Glenn Youngkin said the Commonwealth is in the second year of a three-year project to improve mental health care access in Virginia.

It's known as "Right Help, Right Now." Youngkin started the initiative in 2022. On Thursday, at the Western Tidewater Community Services Board, Youngkin signed 31 bills that support the plan.

Gov. Youngkin signs mental health legislation in Suffolk

"It's about individuals who may be calling or crying for help and need that help right now," Youngkin said. "It's a student in a classroom...it's a sailor serving on a ship."

Among the speakers was Caroline Ouko, the mother Irvo Otieno. The Henrico man died last year while in custody at Central State Hospital in Dinwiddie County. The case sparked call for mental health and law enforcement reform.

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Caroline Ouko, mother of Irvo Otieno

One of the bills Youngkin signed is named after Otieno.

"It's an honor to have a law in Irvo's name," Ouko said. "Irvo's Law will give you access to be with your loved ones in a mental health crisis as they navigate treatment for support and supportive decision-making. Irvo's Law will alleviate the trauma that arises with separation. Our families are part of our mental health and we need them beside us in those tough times."

Irvo Otieno
Irvo Otieno

Youngkin said the plan includes to funding to hire more staff at 9-8-8 call centers. That's the number for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline call center.

"The volume of calls they receive is overwhelming and yet we are top in the nation in response times," the governor said.

Governor Glenn Youngkin
Governor Glenn Youngkin

Another goal of the plan focuses on alternative ways to transport someone to a mental health care facility rather than being transported by law enforcement.

"How do we relieve law enforcement from a role that really is a role they don't want to be in either?" Youngkin asked.

Although charges were dropped against five of the seven deputies in Irvo Otieno's case, his mother hopes the governor will follow through.

"You said what happened to Irvo was wrong," Ouko said as she addressed the governor. "And you are going to be in support of doing something about it."

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