WASHINGTON – Enthusiastic smiles alternated with pained expressions Monday as Virginia state Sen. Creigh Deeds,D-Bath County,shared the life story of his son,Gus Deeds,with a luncheon audience at the National Press Club.
Gus was a bright and inquisitive,musically talented valedictorian,excelling at learning new languages and playing soccer. But at 20,he began to suffer mental health problems,and his state’s mental health care system failed him when it was unable to find an emergency bed the day before he attacked his father with a knife and killed himself Nov. 19.
“Through the loss of my son,I was face-to-face with deficiencies in the system that I and other legislators created,” Deeds said. “I could either be lost in my grief or I could act. I chose to act.”
The senator introduced a bill at the beginning of the 2014 legislative session to give clinicians more time to locate psychiatric beds and develop a web-based registry to direct them to facilities most likely to have openings.
The bill passed both the House and Senate.
Deeds,the Democratic nominee for governor in 2009,lost in a landslide to Republican Bob McDonnell.
Deeds said that the legislative accomplishments – which he’s convinced will save lives – are an incremental step toward further mental-health care reform,not the end of the broad changes needed.
“The real work lies ahead,” he said,pointing to another part of the bill,which requires a four-year study to locate insufficiencies in the system.
He said that Community Services Boards – which provide pre-admission screening to allow people access to publicly funded mental health,substance abuse and intellectual disability services – have been poorly funded throughout Virginia. According to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,the state spent 20 percent less on community mental health care in 2012 than the U.S. average.
Deeds said that one of the significant achievements of the Affordable Care Act is increased equality in access to treatment. He said that $200 million a year would become immediately available for people in Virginia suffering from mental illnesses if the state passed a form of Medicaid expansion.
The Republican-dominated General Assembly,which has returned to Richmond in an attempt to pass a state budget,has refused pleas from Gov. Terry McAuliffe,D, to expand Medicaid.
Reach reporter Griffin Moores at [email protected] or 202-326-9871. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.