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House budget adds $47 million for mental health
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House budget adds $47 million for mental health

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The House Appropriations Committee will propose $47 million in new funding to address gaps in Virginia’s mental health system by expanding the availability of state hospital beds and the use of therapeutic drop-off centers to help people in psychiatric crises.

The proposed funding represents almost $10 million more than then-Gov. Bob McDonnell requested in December to bolster the crisis response system after Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, was attacked by his son, who then killed himself on Nov. 19 at their home in Millboro.

House Appropriations Chairman S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, gave House members a glimpse at the committee’s budget proposal in a floor speech Thursday that emphasized spending on mental health, domestic violence and higher education.

Jones, who became chairman of the powerful money committee this year, promised a structurally balanced budget that will not be affected by a $140 million reduction in expected revenue announced Wednesday by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

“We decided from the beginning to set aside a 1 percent reserve,” he said.

Bolstering the state’s mental health system has been a priority since the attack on Deeds by his son, Austin C. “Gus” Deeds, who had been released from an expired emergency custody order 13 hours earlier because an appropriate psychiatric bed could not be found in time.

McDonnell proposed $38.4 million in new state spending on the system, which has lost more than $57 million in state funds since the recession began in 2008.

The House budget expands on some of those proposed initiatives, including an additional five therapeutic assessment centers — for a total of 17 in the biennium. Law enforcement can drop off people in psychiatric crisis for evaluation at such centers to determine if they pose a threat to themselves or others.

The drop-off centers are considered crucial to proposals to expand the duration of emergency custody orders — now limited to six hours — without putting undue burden on police and sheriff’s departments to transport people in crisis and wait for completion of their evaluations.

Currently, 11 such centers operate in Virginia, serving 13 localities, including Richmond and Chesterfield and Henrico counties.

McDonnell proposed funding to add six centers in each year of the budget. The House proposal would accelerate the initiative to create 10 centers in the first year of the budget and seven in the second year.

Jones also promised an additional $10.1 million to add 30 beds at three state psychiatric hospitals to serve as “beds of last resort” if no community hospital beds can be found for people under temporary detention orders of up to 48 hours.

McDonnell’s proposed budget would add 20 beds at Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg for people admitted for temporary detention or civil commitment.

In addition to mental health, the chairman promised an additional $26 million to keep tuition rates low at the state’s biggest universities and new state funding to expand emergency access for victims of domestic violence.

Jones said the proposed budget “is pretty much done,” allowing House Appropriations members and staff to leave early today for Valentine’s Day and their weekends instead of working through Saturday night to complete the spending blueprint.

mmartz@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6964

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