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DBHDS News Releases

For Immediate Release:
OP/Ed by John Pezzoli, for the Daily Press
April 7, 2014


No simple mental health system answers

Richmond – The debate about mental health and the challenges facing Virginia's mental health system was recently renewed when a state senator lost his beloved son to suicide. It was a terrible tragedy, and we stand with him and many others who have experienced such heartache, in calling for change. The Office of the State Inspector General's report on the tragedy shows there was no one person or procedure to blame. Multiple processes did not work as they should have. Assigning singular blame is much easier, but the facts reveal a far more complicated challenge and no quick fixes for a system serving tens of thousands of Virginians.

The Governor, Health and Human Resources Secretary William Hazel and the General Assembly responded swiftly to the tragedy. The secretary developed critical recommendations for system improvements. Though work on the state budget is still underway, there are many proposals that would increase service capacity. Lawmakers extended the emergency custody order period from six to eight hours to give more time to locate an available bed for persons in crisis. They also lengthened the temporary detention period from 48 to 72 hours so individuals have enough treatment time to stabilize.

This winter, the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) required Virginia's community services boards to revise existing policies and develop clear written protocols to access care during mental health emergencies, including ensuring state hospitals are available as a last resort. Also, Virginia launched an online psychiatric bed registry to help locate beds in emergencies. While these actions alone cannot prevent a tragedy, they are valuable emergency response tools.

There is much more to be done, both to reform our emergency response system and to improve mental health services as a whole. DBHDS and our partners are making improvements in many key areas, including increasing prevention programs such as Mental Health First Aid and suicide prevention, expanding child psychiatry and outpatient treatment programs, diverting individuals from the criminal justice system, and securing and implementing federal grants for homelessness services and other supports.

These are important steps to improve our system and make it more responsive to the people we serve, but there is no question that more must be done to ensure that every Virginian has the resources they need to keep themselves and others healthy and safe. Where should we go from here? Very broadly, we should:

Reform involves a multitude of stakeholders, such as lawmakers, mental health professionals, the criminal justice system and advocates. It will take attention for years, not months, to make enduring improvements to the system. We are committed to bringing positive changes to Virginia's public mental health system so it responds immediately to all individuals and families who need help.


Pezzoli serves as Virginia's Acting Commissioner for DBHDS.
Copyright © 2014, Newport News, Va., Daily Press

Available to citizens statewide, Virginia’s public mental health, intellectual disability and substance abuse services system is comprised of 40 community services boards (CSBs) and 16 state facilities. DBHDS seeks to promote dignity, choice, recovery, and the highest possible level of participation in work, relationships, and all aspects of community life for individuals with a mental illness, intellectual disability or a substance-use disorder.

1220 Bank Street P.O. Box 1797 Richmond, Virginia 23218-1797
Phone: (804) 786-3921
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