John Clair, the police chief of a small Appalachian town in southwest Virginia, spends his days consumed by a growing problem: the frequency with which his officers are tapped to detain, transport and wait in hospitals with people in mental health crisis. .
Officers from Clair’s 21-member Marion Police Department crisscross the state to transport patients for court-ordered treatment, sometimes only to find the hospital they were sent to has no available beds. Patients wind up in waiting rooms or emergency rooms, sometimes for days on end, while under the care of Clair’s officers.
It’s a problem for law enforcement agencies around Virginia, one that advocates, attorneys and leaders like Clair say ties up police resources and contributes to poor patient outcomes. Over the past five years, these types of transportation have become the largest category of cases handled by the Marion department.
SUPER BOWL AND SPORTS FAN DEPRESSION: HOW TO FIGHT WHEN YOUR TEAM LOSES, ACCORDING TO MENTAL HEALTH EXPERTS
“We’re up against the wall,” said Clair, an Army veteran and former lay pastor who sometimes shuttles patients himself, and did so last month on a nearly 15-hour trip to a coastal town in other side of the state.
The problem underscores a widely held consensus that Virginia’s mental health care system is in urgent need of reform, due to what Governor Glenn Youngkin’s administration says is an overreliance on hospitalization in times of growing demand.
About a year ago, Youngkin, a Republican, launched an ambitious initiative aimed at changing the way psychiatric care is done by creating a system that allows people to get treatment that they need without delay, in their own community and do not need to be locked up in a hospital, easing the burden on patients and law enforcement.
While Virginia’s struggles may be more severe, Youngkin is not alone in his focus on the issue. Improving mental health care has become a priority in the US like never before as the pandemic has brought new levels of isolation, fear and grief, in addition to previous crises such as the rise of drug overdose deaths and struggles weighing on teenage girls. Survey data from the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that by 2022, about half of adults with any mental illness will not receive treatment.
“We know there’s a lot of partisan divide across the country, but what we’ve found is whether it’s a red state or a blue state, there’s a lot of support for behavioral health at this point,” Brian Hepburn said. , executive director of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors.
Youngkin’s emphasis on mental health developed during his 2021 campaign, when everyone — from doctors to local officials to police — implored him to make it a priority, according to John Littel, the cabinet secretary overseeing the Virginia initiative.
“It’s very clear that people are really struggling,” Littel said.
Youngkin has already won bipartisan support for his “Help Help, Now” initiative and praise from advocates, though some are concerned about the pace at which things are moving. The governor – whose press office says the initiative is more than important milestones – will not seek a second consecutive term and will leave office in two years.
The initiative’s broad goals include building a behavioral health care workforce and working to prevent the rise in overdose deaths, which claim the lives of an average of seven Virginians for a day in 2022. get hundreds of millions in new funding, with more proposed.
The “fundamental” part of the plan, as Littel described it, creates a system that delivers same-day help to individuals in crisis, which should also relieve some of the burden on police departments. such as Clair’s who are accused of bringing most patients to a Court deemed a danger to themselves or others.
PRESIDENTIAL DEPRESSION AND ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S DECEPTION OF ‘MELANCHOLY’: WHAT HISTORIANS KNOW
Youngkin’s administration hopes to build on that continuity of care by increasing the number of mobile crisis teams with clinicians to respond to mental health emergencies and creating more short-term stabilization centers for of patients to avoid the need to take them hours away from their homes for care. .
A recent report from the state’s legislative watchdog underscores the need.
Virginia will have more than 20,000 temporary detention orders in fiscal year 2023, according to a recent presentation to lawmakers. About 8,538 of those individuals experienced delays in receiving psychiatric treatment after they were deemed an imminent danger to themselves or others, the report found.
The report also raised concerns about law enforcement “drop-offs,” where officers or sheriff’s deputies leave patients before they are admitted to a hospital or other facility. Recent testimony at a legislative hearing suggested that the drop-offs put some of the patients at risk of death.
Elsewhere in the US, state policy concerns and approaches to improving mental health care are varied.
States are using federal coronavirus pandemic relief funds to bolster access to care, and most governors have talked about mental health in their state in state of the state addresses over the past few years. Mental health was listed as a budget priority in most states in an analysis by the National Association of State Budget Officers.
Will that emphasis continue?
“It’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint,” said Katherine McGuire, chief advocacy officer of the American Psychological Association, “and our daily hope is that the states especially after the elimination of the emergency in public health will realize that they have to stick with it, they have to stick with it.”
Virginia lawmakers are considering bills at the intersection of law enforcement and mental health this year.
Clair said she hopes speaking candidly about her department’s experiences will help them see the urgency of the problem. But he worries that the part-time General Assembly, which is also grappling with controversial gambling deals and sports arenas, could rush into something that falls short of what is needed.
The patient Clair transported across the state, costing his department thousands of dollars, had about 15 mental health encounters with his agency in a year and a half, he estimated. One involved a suicide attempt.
CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP
The patient dropped off a handwritten thank you note for the boss after their long trip. Soon, he was back in the custody of his department.
Clair said police and indigent patients — whose crises can be exacerbated by time spent restrained in the back of a police car — deserve better.
“We’re just setting ourselves up for tragedy over and over again,” he said.