Governor McAuliffe Takes Stock of what Did - and Didn't - Happen on Mental Health During Term

Jul 19, 2017

“I feel good about where we are. But I don’t feel that good. There’s still urgency to achieve more, until we get to the point where we are a national leader. And I think we can be there.” Creigh Deeds

During his last few months as governor, Terry McAullife is taking stock of his time in office — especially on action on mental health. Michael Pope has the story.

Virginia has had a very public problem with mental health in the last few years. First the son of state Senator Creigh Deeds experienced a psychotic episode and stabbed his father before killing himself. Then a mentally ill inmate at a Virginia jail died of starvation.

During a forum on mental health hosted by the Hill in Washington this week, Governor Terry McAuliffe said those events prompted much needed reform.

“If there’s someone with a mental illness, you’re not going to a jail anymore in Virginia — and just putting them in a cell and just leaving them there with no treatment. So I’m very proud we were able to get that done. So we’ve made a lot of progress in the last couple of years from where we started, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

State officials now have a goal of training sheriff’s deputies to conduct uniform screening of inmates, although no money was appropriated to make that happen. And inmates who raise red flags would have received assessments by mental health professionals within 72 hours, if the General Assembly had funded the governor’s request. But that didn’t happen.

Nevertheless Senator Creigh Deeds says he sees signs for hope.

“I feel good about where we are. But I don’t feel that good. There’s still urgency to achieve more, until we get to the point where we are a national leader. And I think we can be there.”

Since his son died, Virginia has added about 300 psychiatric beds. And this year the General Assembly provided new funding for people experiencing a mental health crisis to get same-day service. But those inmates who may have mental health problems are still not receiving assessments from mental health professionals.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association