Modern life, it seems, may bring to us at times, more than our share of tragedies. A person who has suffered and endured what I consider the most painful such loss in recent memory, is Dr. Craige Deeds Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Virginia. He is also a Virginia state legislator who has dedicated himself more than ever, to the cause of reforming and improving mental health care delivery in Virginia. He lost his son in 2013 when his then schizophrenic son, committed suicide after trying to stab his father Dr. Deeds. Dr. Deeds had endeavored to hospitalize his son after that incident but somehow in the whole state, there were no beds for his sons, a circumstance I cast a very skeptical eye upon, with my own suspicions as to why none could be found at all. His son was treated for four days with medications in an ER and then had to be released when he had calmed and was no longer deemed dangerous. Four days later, he suicided.
Dr. Deeds faced this tragedy and turned his tragedy and sorrow into something positive which is about the only thing one can do. He redoubled his previous efforts in mental health legislation and singlehandedly almost has nudged the state of Virginia into enacting and putting into place several well thought out reforms, changes and additions to the state’s public mental health system. The first reform was a long needed statewide registry database of open psychiatric beds. This enabled mental health professionals and law enforcement officials and courts to place quickly acutely ill persons needing urgent inpatient psychiatric care, into hospital beds. One radical aspect of this law and change was that private psychiatric beds were mandated to be included. This prevented private psychiatric units from refusing involuntarily committed patients or unruly persons from being rejected out of hand for admission.
Dr. (State Senator for his second title) Deeds has labored mightily to take one broad, large, unwieldy state-wide system issue in Virginia’s broken system of public mental health services delivery after another. It can be easily said that he has done what no one else has done, and accomplished as a result of these efforts, more than any other single person in this country. I regard him personally with utmost respect as our present modern day personification of the great reformer, Dorothea Dix. One of the things that Dr. Deeds has done, has been to cross the political aisles in his state. He has brought the two feuding political parties together in a common effort and fashioned a new alliance that has passed a set of legislative advances for over 3 years since his efforts began to take off in 2014.
In a recent editorial, the Virginia News & Advance newspaper published on May 29, 2016, entitled “Trying to Remake State’s Mental Health System,” Virginia’s commendable mental health reform efforts were enumerated in a concise fashion. Virginia’s efforts are somewhat unique in the country’s landscape concerning this issue which now dominating many American state legislatures.
Virginia’s efforts, similar to a few others states’ efforts, have been singularly prompted by a highly publicized tragedy, that of the death of a young adult, Gus Deeds. What is very different is that his father is a mental health professional, and a Virginia state legislator.
This young man while psychotic tried to stab the father, Craige Deeds. He was held in a local hospital emergency room for several days while awaiting a referral and placement in either a private or public state psychiatric hospital. There was no bed to be had and he was released a few days later. Shortly thereafter, he suicided. His father, state senator Deeds Ph.D. has made this a personal and public service legislative cause and mission to author and see enacted to address the deficits in Virginia’s mental health system to prevent another tragedy.
State Senator Deeds’ efforts have been very well placed and appropriate. However, even he has had difficulty in seeing this well crafted and reasonable legislation passed as the above-cited editorial, unfortunately points out. This is emblematic of many state’s efforts. The limiting factors are budgetary and many state legislatures, governors, and legislators are finding it very hard to find and devote the long needed monies to mental health reform. Some states have made creditable progress such as my home and practice state of North Carolina. But it remains quite hard to address the funding issues in many states that have permitted the development of state mental health system crises that we see presently almost everywhere. One can only hope that these difficulties can be overcome as efforts continue.