Senator, state agency requesting more funds for mental health transportation

Senator, state agency requesting more funds for mental health transportation
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) – The backlash following a police officer accused of leaving a child alone outside of a mental health hospital in Covington County is shedding new light on what State Senator Creigh Deeds says is the lack of services for people experiencing a mental crisis.

“For crying out loud, this is just not excusable,” Deeds said. “There was not a bed for this child at the Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents (CCCA). This child was taken to the hospital and dropped off at a locked door without any arrangements being made.”

The Department of Behavioral Health Developmental Services says it will assist the Covington County Police Department with the investigation in any way possible.

The situation harkens back to March when more than a half dozen Chesterfield cruisers sat outside Chippenham hospital waiting with mental health patients for beds to open up.

Last year, the Department of Behavioral Health Developmental Services (DBHDS) launched the Alternative Transportation Program, which has completed over 4,400 transports of people experiencing a mental crisis and saved over 9,300 hours of driving time for law enforcement.

According to the DBHDS, the program consistently transported over 25% of individuals experiencing a mental health crisis under a temporary detention order (TDO) in Southwest Virginia, the first of Virginia’s regions to start this program.

Before alternative transportation was codified as an alternative to law enforcement transport, individuals experiencing a mental health crisis were driven to the TDO facility handcuffed in the back seat of a law enforcement vehicle.

But even with $4.2 million in funding for the program, the DBHDS says it isn’t enough funding to handle all transports. That puts the extra burden on officers who sometimes drive patients hours away to find hospitals with space and then potentially have to wait hours for that patient to be seen as space frees up.

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“The focus should not be on what happened, but we need to learn some lessons from this and figure out how we can meet people’s needs and restore faith in officers who are put in this very difficult situation,” Deeds said.

In response, Deeds says he and the DBHDS are requesting more money in the state budget to improve transportation that could help those in crisis and improve local treatment options before they need to go to the hospital.

“We’re trying to beef that up this year by providing more funding, and when we get a budget passed, hopefully, that will be in there, but the reality is until we get a hospital bed is identified, the alternative transportation does not kick in,” Deeds said. “If people have mental health needs, if there are being provided services in their local communities, they are less likely to be in crisis and less likely to need a hospital bed.”

The Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police is also lobbying for extra money to fund initiatives that it says would improve mental health response and reduce the role of law enforcement in mental health transportation.

But Deeds says he’s unsure how much money will be prioritized for those efforts in the new state budget once it passes.

“The reality is we’ve gone on the cheap for a long time on these things,” Deeds. “I know we’ve spent several million dollars trying to get it right, but it’s probably going to take an investment of more millions to make this a statewide program and make sure it’s available at every corner of the commonwealth.

Copyright 2022 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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