Tragedy in a state short on men­tal health care

Deeds’ son turned away from fa­cil­ity

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY DAVID SHERFINSKI THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

Af­ter Austin “Gus” Deeds with­drew from the Col­lege of Wil­liam & Mary last month, peo­ple tried to get him help. But af­ter un­der­go­ing a men­tal health eval­u­a­tion Mon­day, he re­port­edly was turned away be­cause, an of­fi­cial said, there sim­ply weren’t any beds avail­able.

By Tues­day morn­ing, Gus, 24, was dead in what po­lice are in­ves­ti­gat­ing as an at­tempted mur­der and sui­cide that landed his fa­ther, Vir­ginia state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, in the hos­pi­tal. The tragedy that unfolded Tues­day high­lights the in­sid­i­ous, of­ten over­looked sub­ject of men­tal health in a state still deal­ing with fall­out from the 2007 Vir­ginia Tech mas­sacre, when gun­man Se­ung- hui Cho killed 32 peo­ple be­fore tak­ing his own life.

Mr. Deeds, suf­fer­ing from mul­ti­ple stab wounds in the head and torso, was up­graded from crit­i­cal to fair con­di­tion Tues­day af­ter­noon. Po­lice said the Bath Demo­crat, 55, had an “al­ter­ca­tion” with his son at his Mill­boro home, where au­thor­i­ties found Gus dead from what ap­peared to be a self-in­flicted gun­shot wound.

The story quickly turned into na­tional news, but the sit­u­a­tion of peo­ple be­ing turned away from men­tal health treat­ment at state-run fa­cil­i­ties or hos­pi­tals did not hap­pen overnight.

The is­sue sur­faced in a state re­port last year that said 200 peo­ple were de­nied men­tal health treat­ment from April 1, 2010, through March 31, 2011.

Gus Deeds was eval­u­ated un­der an But would they drink beer to­gether? Pres­i­dent Obama will award for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton the Medal of Free­dom on Wed­nes­day at the White House, a pub­lic dis­play of ad­mi­ra­tion be­lied by the en­dur­ing ten­sions be­tween the two men.

Mr. Obama will be­stow the na­tion’s high­est civil­ian honor on Mr. Clin­ton for the work dur­ing his pres­i­dency and, more re­cently, as head of the Clin­ton Global Ini­tia­tive. Fif­teen other honorees will at­tend the cer­e­mony in the East Room, but all eyes will be on the pres­i­dent and his some­time neme­sis, the for­mer pres­i­dent.

It will be their first face-to-face en­counter since Mr. Clin­ton pub­licly en­cour­aged a Demo­cratic re­bel­lion last week against a por­tion of Oba­macare and urged Mr. Obama to make good on his prom­ise that Amer­i­cans could keep their health insurance plans. The come­up­pance fu­eled spec­u­la­tion that the Clin­tons are start­ing to dis­tance them­selves from the in­creas­ingly un­pop­u­lar Mr. Obama in prepa­ra­tion for a pres­i­den­tial bid by Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton in 2016.

“The White House told me they don’t have any prob­lem with what [Mr. Clin­ton] said; I also don’t be­lieve them,” said a Demo­crat with ties to the West Wing. “There will al­ways be a sus­pi­cion among Democrats that [the Clin­tons] are only in it for them­selves.”

But an ad­viser in the Clin­ton White House, Lanny Davis, pre­dicted that the episode last week will not mar Wed­nes­day’s cer­e­mony.

“Not only is it not go­ing to lead to ten­sion, I think Pres­i­dent Obama wel­comed it,” Mr. Davis said of Mr.

emer­gency cus­tody or­der by men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als and re­leased Mon­day, Den­nis Crop­per, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Rock­bridge County Com­mu­nity Ser­vices Board, told the Rich­mond Times-Dis­patch.

The cus­tody or­der al­lowed him to be held for up to four hours to de­ter­mine whether he could be placed un­der a tem­po­rary de­ten­tion or­der. He was re­leased af­ter no psy­chi­atric bed could be found, Mr. Crop­per said.

A fol­low-up re­port from the state found that from July 15 through Oct. 13, 2011, tem­po­rary de­ten­tion or­ders for 72 peo­ple in need of com­pre­hen­sive eval­u­a­tions to de­ter­mine the proper lev­els of care were not ex­e­cuted.

“The 72 failed TDOs, who were de­nied ad­mis­sion to a state-op­er­ated hos­pi­tal or a pri­vate psy­chi­atric fa­cil­ity, may be Vir­ginia’s ‘ca­nary in the coal mine’ warn­ing us that the sys­tem has yet to cre­ate suf­fi­cient com­mu­nity ca­pac­ity to serve our neigh­bors and fam­ily mem­bers who, decades ago, would have been treated in state- op­er­ated be­hav­ioral health fa­cil­i­ties,” the re­port says. “With­out the clin­i­cal skill and ded­i­ca­tion of … emer­gency staff, our most vul­ner­a­ble neigh­bors — and our com­mu­ni­ties — would have doubt­less ex­pe­ri­enced many tragic out­comes.”

In one case, a 22-year-old Vir­ginia man who had been liv­ing in a group home was brought to an emer­gency room on July 18, 2011. He had been bit­ing staff, pour­ing an­tifreeze, mo­tor oil and clean­ing fluid on him­self and run­ning into traf­fic. Voices were telling him to harm him­self.

Other pri­vate hos­pi­tals de­clined to tem­po­rar­ily de­tain him ei­ther be­cause of his se­vere con­di­tion or bed ca­pac­ity prob­lems. It took more than nine hours be­fore an at­tend­ing physi­cian de­manded that he be placed in the fa­cil­ity’s psy­chi­atric unit.

Po­lice brought the same man to an emer­gency room July 28 for sim­i­lar be­hav­ior. That time, it wasn’t un­til he struck and in­jured a worker who had been at­tend­ing to him that he was ad­mit­ted to a psy­chi­atric unit July 31.

The Na­tional Al­liance on Men­tal Ill­ness of Vir­ginia of­fered thoughts and prayers to Mr. Deeds and his fam­ily Tues­day.

The al­liance pointed out that the like­li­hood of vi­o­lence from peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness is low and cau­tioned against spec­u­la­tion about what trig­gered the events.

The group said in a state­ment that men­tal health fund­ing has been on a “roller coaster” in the state, with the Gen­eral As­sem­bly ap­prov­ing $42 mil­lion in the wake of Vir­ginia Tech for men­tal health ser­vices such as case man­age­ment, emer­gency ser­vices and out­pa­tient ser­vices.

But head­ing into 2009, as Vir­ginia’s bud­get started to feel the ef­fects of the na­tional eco­nomic down­turn, much of the fund­ing was com­pro­mised, the group said.

“We were pleased that the Leg­is­la­ture ap­proved new fund­ing dur­ing the 2013 ses­sion for cri­sis ser­vices, jail di­ver­sion, dis­charge plan­ning, and other crit­i­cal ser­vices,” said the state­ment pro­vided by Mira Signer, the group’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. “It was a step in the right di­rec­tion to strengthen Vir­ginia’s men­tal health sys­tem. We need to see more ef­forts like it in the fu­ture to shore up Vir­ginia’s men­tal health sys­tem and en­sure that all who need ac­cess to it are able to get it.”

News of the at­tack also sur­faced just as gun con­trol ad­vo­cates were hold­ing a news con­fer­ence in Wash­ing­ton to mark the 20th an­niver­sary of the fed­eral Brady Law.

Sarah Brady, founder of the Brady Cam­paign to Pre­vent Gun Vi­o­lence, said ini­tial re­ports of the in­ci­dent showed the short­com­ings of the ar­gu­ment that gun own­er­ship is an ef­fec­tive de­fense in the case of home at­tacks or in­va­sions.

“A de­ci­sion to buy a gun is a per­sonal one, and it should be thought of very care­fully,” she said.

Mr. Deeds is a strong Sec­ond Amend­ment ad­vo­cate. As a state del­e­gate, he spon­sored a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment in 1999 pro­tect­ing the right to hunt in Vir­ginia.

L. Dou­glas Wilder, the mer­cu­rial for­mer gov­er­nor of Vir­ginia, de­clined to en­dorse Mr. Deeds’ can­di­dacy in 2009 in part be­cause of the se­na­tor’s op­po­si­tion to a law cham­pi­oned by Mr. Wilder lim­it­ing hand­gun sales in Vir­ginia to one per month. The law was re­pealed last year.

Vir­ginia State Po­lice spokes­woman Corinne Geller said au­thor­i­ties re­cov­ered a firearm from the scene Tues­day, but she de­clined to pro­vide ad­di­tional de­tails. Only Mr. Deeds and his son were at the house when the in­ci­dent oc­curred, she said.

An of­fi­cial at Wil­liam & Mary de­scribed Gus Deeds as a strong stu­dent. He first en­rolled in 2007 but took a se­mes­ter off to join his fa­ther on the cam­paign trail in 2009.

“He needs me and I need him,” Mr. Deeds told a reporter in 2009 about cam­paign­ing with Gus.

“I’ve got to go through this cam­paign process, but that doesn’t mean I’ve got to be com­pletely sep­a­rated from my fam­ily the whole time,” he said.

Mr. Deeds has three other chil­dren. He and his first wife, Pam, di­vorced in 2010, and he mar­ried Siob­han, his cur­rent wife, last year.

“This is a ter­ri­ble tragedy,” said House Mi­nor­ity Leader David Toscano, Char­lottesville Demo­crat. “Sen. Deeds was very close to his son Gus, and has taken her­culean ef­forts to help him over the years. Our thoughts and prayers are with Creigh and the fam­ily at this dif­fi­cult time.”


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