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Mental Health Study Commission Work Groups Meet

The Joint Subcommittee to Study Mental Health Services in the Commonwealth in the 21st Century was extended until December 2019 in budget language earlier this year in order to give it more time to work on changes to the state’s behavioral health system.  This year, the Joint Subcommittee is divided into two work groups, System Structure and Financing and Criminal Justice Diversion, both of which met in June.

The System Structure Work Group met on June 12 to receive updates from its expert advisory panel and several state agencies regarding various studies currently underway.  Variation in local funding levels for Community Services Boards (CSBs) was a theme of discussion throughout the work group’s meeting.  Dr. Richard Bonnie, chair of the expert advisory panel, discussed the panel’s preliminary report on this topic; the panel plans to do further work in this area, in addition to examining the authority and responsibility of state agencies (in particular the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS), to oversee and provide technical assistance to CSBs.  Dr. Jack Barber, Interim DBHDS Commissioner, made a presentation on ongoing reforms to the behavioral health delivery system, including the status of implementation of same-day assessments at Community Services Boards, a change in practice that was partially funded in the state budget this year and is being phased in across the state.  The work group also received a progress report on the work of a group tasked with examining alternative models for transporting individuals subject to an Emergency Custody Order or a Temporary Detention Order, as well as a presentation regarding the integration of behavioral health care and primary care.  The work group is expected to meet again in August.

The Criminal Justice Diversion work group met on June 20 and received a report from its expert advisory panel, which is investigating mental health screening in jails, among other topics.  Newport News Sheriff Gabriel Morgan presented information on the Hampton-Newport News Jail Diversion Program, which works to keep individuals with mental illness out of the criminal justice system by training law enforcement officers in crisis intervention and providing them with the option of transporting individuals to a behavioral health care facility rather than placing them under arrest.  The work group discussed the resources necessary to establish such a program, which might entail several localities working together to share the costs.  The need for additional capacity for inpatient treatment was also discussed.

Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Victoria Cochran provided an update on changes to the role of the Board of Corrections resulting from legislation that passed this session.  Robyn de Socio, Executive Secretary of the State Compensation Board, provided an update on work to comply with budget language directing the Compensation Board to determine staffing levels necessary to provide mental health assessments of jail inmates who appear to be mentally ill based on an initial screening, as well as budget language requiring that an initial screening be done for all inmates using a standard instrument.  The work group also received a presentation by DBHDS Assistant Commissioner for Forensic Services Dr. Michael Schaefer, who discussed efforts underway at DBHDS to improve discharge planning for inmates leaving local and regional jails.  The work group will meet again on August 30.

VACo Contact: Katie Boyle

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