The number of people needing emergency help from Virginia's mental health hospitals is on the rise. A review by the 12 On Your Side Investigators of state records shows a tremendous increase in the number of people ordered into care -- often against their will.
A bed in a mental health hospital was all Gus Deeds needed last November, but he was turned away. His father, state Sen. Creigh Deeds, now bears the lifelong scars of that failure. A mentally ill Gus Deeds attacked his father with a knife at their home in Bath County, and then shot himself.
"Every one of these situations is life and death. Every one. And you have to treat it with urgency," Sen. Deeds said to lawmakers in February.
Deeds' son Gus was being held on a TDO -- Temporary Detention Order. That's an emergency decision where a person is determined to be a danger and is ordered by a magistrate to be hospitalized.
It's been six months since the Deeds tragedy. The 12 On Your Side Investigators reviewed records from a state database. From January to March, there was a 23 percent increase in the number of people brought to state hospitals under TDOs. There were 294 total TDOs during January, February, and March 2013. In the first three months of 2014, there were 361.
A spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services also points out that the majority of people ordered into care by a TDO are brought by family to private / community psychiatric facilities. Only 13 percent are brought to the state hospitals.
"It tells me that awareness is raised. It tells me that the General Assembly as well as the community at large is actually realizing that this is not a matter that can wait," said Kathy Harkey, of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Virginia (NAMI.)
It's not lost on her that the increase of patients needing beds also means Virginia's network of nine mental health hospitals are experiencing backlogs and bed shortages.
"State hospitals, they work on a shoe string budget. They do the best they can with what they have," added Harkey.
Now the state has promised $38 million in new mental health funding, which could help with this rise in emergency patients. That money is tied up in the budget battle in Richmond. If an agreement is reached, it won't be ready until July 1 at the earliest.
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