Governor proposes new mental health funding

Issues executive order establishing task force on improving services

Marlene Jones | 12/10/2013, 3:50 p.m.
Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-Va.) will include funding for mental health services in his upcoming budget. He will also sign an ...

Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-Va.) will include funding for mental health services in his upcoming budget. He will also sign an executive order forming a "Mental Health Task Force" to make further recommendations for reforms.

In an announcement today, the governor said his proposals will expand crisis response and crisis prevention services for Virginia’s behavioral health system. The governor’s proposals would infuse $38.3 million over the biennium into critical mental health and substance-use disorder programs.

Separately, funding for the DOJ mental health and training center settlement and Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS) resources, a total of $95.8 million, will be provided during the next biennium.

Through Executive Order 68, the governor will form a task force to help improve mental health services and crisis response. The task force calls for leaders in the mental health field, law enforcement communities, the judicial system and private hospitals along with individuals receiving mental health services and their families to seek and recommend solutions that will improve Virginia’s mental health crisis services and help prevent crises from developing.

“Over the years, including the events of April 16, 2007, Virginians have experienced tremendous heartache as a result of mental health tragedies," said McDonnell referring to the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting by a mentally unstable individual that resulted in 33 deaths, including the shooter's, and 17 injuries.

"These experiences serve to underline the need to ensure that all individuals and families experiencing mental health crises have access to the needed services without delay. Working together with the General Assembly we have made progress, but there is much more to do.

"It has become clear that Virginia’s mental health system can sometimes be difficult to navigate for families seeking assistance, or even for workers inside the system. While there are quality services in place to address most types of mental health needs, we must increase the capacity and availability of those services in all Virginia communities so that every person in crisis is able to receive much-needed help."

The governor also said that Virginia must simultaneously look for ways to expand the availability of ongoing treatment and support services that will prevent mental health crises.

"This significant and strategic investment of funds and Executive Order 68 are substantial steps forward to making critical mental health improvements," he said, adding that Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe is fully supportive of the changes and will continue the executive order task force during his term.

"Too many tragic events in this commonwealth have underscored the need for reforms and more resources when it comes to mental health and crisis response in Virginia," said McAuliffe (D), probably alluding to recent events involving state Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath County).

Deed's 24-year old son, Austin, stabbed the senator, then fatally shot himself following what has been described as a mental break. Austin Deeds had undergone a psychiatric evaluation a day before and a magistrate judge had issued an emergency custody order. But the younger Deeds nevertheless returned home. Officials initially said that was because no psychiatric bed could be located. But three nearby hospitals have since confirmed that they had space but were never contacted.