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Chesterfield County Hosts Behavioral Health Commission

The Behavioral Health Commission met on June 22 at Chesterfield County’s Eanes Pittman Public Safety Training Center to receive a briefing from Chesterfield County Sheriff Karl Leonard and his staff about their efforts to provide mental health treatment and to support recovery within the jail.  Commission members also adopted a work plan for the remainder of the year, accepting the recommendations of the Commission’s Executive Committee, which had proposed a draft work plan earlier in the month.

Sheriff Leonard and Kerri Rhodes, Behavioral and Mental Health Director for the Sheriff’s Office, spoke passionately about their commitment to providing mental and behavioral health care for the individuals incarcerated in the Chesterfield County jail, highlighting the HARP program as an important example of efforts to break the cycle of addiction and recidivism.  HARP is a voluntary substance use disorder treatment program provided within the jail that involves peer-to-peer counseling as well as other clinical and educational programming, and has been shown in an independent evaluation to reduce recidivism among program graduates.  Chesterfield County won VACo’s 2017 Best Large County Achievement Award for the HARP program.  Despite the success of HARP and other programming within the jail, Sheriff Leonard and Ms. Rhodes stressed the importance of a better society-wide approach to mental health, pointing out that the jail has become a de facto psychiatric treatment facility and noting that at times, individuals in crisis end up in the jail for lack of an alternative option.

Commission members endorsed the draft workplan proposed by the Executive Committee; the plan includes a mix of specific studies and ongoing monitoring and oversight.

Ongoing monitoring and oversight projects include the following:

  • Tracking current efforts on health care workforce programs: As part of the Commission’s ongoing charge to map current initiatives in behavioral health, staff will collaborate with the Joint Commission on Health Care (which is conducting a study of all health care workforce programs, to include behavioral health programs), as well as with the Virginia Healthcare Workforce Development Authority, and provide a report in December.
  • Tracking current efforts on crisis services implementation: As another element of the Commission’s work to document current initiatives, staff will develop a map of efforts to enhance the state’s crisis services system.  Budget language directs the Secretary of Health and Human Resources to report on the use of funding appropriated during the 2023 and 2024 General Assembly sessions to expand and modernize the state’s crisis services system.  A report is scheduled for December.
  • Reporting on system metrics: Staff plans to continue quarterly updates on key metrics.
  • Program monitoring: Staff suggested that the Commission develop a rolling list of programs to be evaluated, which would allow staff to work continuously on these efforts without requiring formal direction via the adoption of a new workplan each year.  Further discussion of this plan is scheduled for September.
  • Monitoring and evaluation of Permanent Supportive Housing: Staff plans to evaluate the effectiveness of this program in improving long-term outcomes, with a report planned for October.
  • STEP-VA implementation: Budget language directs the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to report to the Commission, among other entities, on the changes to STEP-VA performance measures and benchmarks that are anticipated to be included in Community Services Board performance contracts.  The Department is also required to conduct a needs assessment for each of the nine service components of STEP-VA, as well as a cost estimate for these unmet needs.  Both reports are due by December 1.  Commission staff anticipate using the data and metrics that are developed this year to begin conducting oversight of the programs beginning in 2025.

Additional studies to be undertaken include the following:

  • Law enforcement interactions with individuals with mental illness and other disorders: Legislation to provide an affirmative defense to prosecution for assault or assault and battery for individuals whose behaviors resulted from mental illness or neurocognitive disorders was vetoed by the Governor, and the Disability Commission referred the issue to the Behavioral Health Commission.  Staff has proposed determining to what extent law enforcement officers receive adequate training in interacting with individuals in crisis and what barriers might be impeding adequate training.
  • Alignment of civil admissions laws and processes with crisis system: Legislation enacted in 2024 directs the Commission to study how best to align current civil admissions statutes and processes with the delivery of services in the crisis system.  Staff plans to provide an interim briefing in November and a final report in fall 2025.

Commission staff also provided an update on the outcome of legislative and budgetary proposals introduced at the Commission’s request during the 2024 General Assembly session.  The meeting slides may be found at this link.  The Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for July 9.

VACo Contact:  Katie Boyle

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