Governor's plan would pump millions into mental healthcare - - Richmond, VA News

Governor's plan would pump millions into mental healthcare

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Get the mentally ill the services they need before their illness ends in tragedy. That's the message from Governor Bob McDonnell, who just announced a proposal to pump $38 million into improved services. Now he has to convince the General Assembly to sign on.

It's an issue that just couldn't wait, according to Gov. McDonnell, and in light of recent tragic events, a state goal became an immediate priority.

"Obviously, it's a heartbreaking situation we experienced recently. Sen. Deeds is a very good man and public servant and heartbroken about losing his son," Gov. McDonnell said.

The Bath County tragedy last month put all eyes on Virginia. The senator's mentally ill son was reportedly denied access to a hospital bed hours before he stabbed the senator and shot and killed himself.

"Unfortunately, when there is a bad event, there is a reaction. Fortunately, this is a good reaction and brings in good resources, but we shouldn't have to wait until a crisis to do that," said psychiatrist Ananda Pandurangi.

Pandurangi has practiced for 30 years and is glad to learn of the governor's new proposal to pump millions into mental health.

"This field has always suffered from lack of resources and lack of funding," Dr. Pandurangi said.

The plan would extend the time doctors have to observe a patient or find a bed for them, under an emergency custody order. It also gives medical staff an extra day to treat a patient under a temporary detention order - if that patient is found to be at risk of harming himself or others. An online state registry will roll out by January for medical staff across the state to share how many beds they have available.

"We have a lot of catching up to do," Dr. Pandurangi added.

The governor is also issuing an executive order to immediately create a task force to study more ideas for stepping up services. It will consist of police, doctors, and representatives from Virginia's Supreme Court and Attorney General's Office. It will also include people impacted by mental health services - including patients and their relatives.

"New ideas will come out of the task force, and we'll keep building on the system," McDonnell added.

Even though this is a plan the governor is pitching, it's even gaining support from Governor-Elect Terry McAulliffe, who says he's also on board and sees an immediate need.

The proposal also includes $1.7 million for equipment that would allow doctors to evaluate patients by telephone or by computer to help improve access for patients in rural areas.

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