Abingdon’s police chief expresses frustration with Virginia’s mental health system


ABINGDON, Va (WJHL)- Abingdon Police Chief Tony Sullivan expressed his frustration with the mental health system in Virginia via twitter. He stated “the mental health system is broken and we have no way to fix it.”

Sullivan tweeted out a letter addressing that for the second time in three months the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services claims the state’s mental health facilities will be full during the holiday weekend.

“To see this happen bang bang, on consecutive holidays, seems to me that somebody doesn’t want to work on a holiday,” Sullivan said.

Chief Sullivan says the state facilities were also full during Memorial Day Weekend and the inconvenience is far too risky.

“My biggest fear is that this overcrowding situation will create a backlog of mental health patients who need treatment with no where for them to go and no where to place them,” Sullivan said.

Police departments are responsible for transporting patients to mental health facilities. According to Sullivan, now the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services are asking them to do more.

“And they are asking us to partner with them and the other stakeholders the hospitals, the service boards, the people who do the mental health evaluations to find alternative means because they imaging that the state hospitals are going to be at capacity,” he said.

The Virginia state code says “the period of custody shall not exceed eight hours from the time the law-enforcement takes the person into custody. Chief Sullivan says after that eight hour period a person is free to leave, leaving their crisis unresolved.

The Abingdon Police Department reports, within the last 6 years alone, they have transported 552 mental health patients to state hospitals for treatment. Chief Sullivan stresses that it’s time mental health transport issues be addressed.

The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services issued the following statement:

State hospitals have been experiencing a tremendous increase in admissions since “last resort” laws in 2014 required state hospitals to take people in mental health crisis who are under a temporary detention order (TDO) if no alternative bed can be found. Following the passage of these laws, TDO admissions to private hospitals dramatically decreased and during the past three months, the state hospitals have been experiencing greater census pressures than they have in recent history. 

Over the holiday weekend, most court hearings will not take place that allow individuals under a TDO to be released if they are ready for discharge. During this time, the state hospitals could receive as many as 80 admissions, and we are preparing for the likelihood that all staffed beds at times will be occupied. 

To be clear, DBHDS is not denying admissions. For individuals found needing a TDO bed and no alternative can be found, we plan on being the bed of last resort. However, this will mean there will be times a delay will occur once the TDO is issued while we balance the competing requirements of the states bed of last resort law, federal EMTALA regulations, and medical standards of care during the search for an appropriate bed.

We understand the challenges this places on our community partners during this temporary emergency situation, and we are aggressively pursuing all options to encourage private hospitals to take more admissions and for an increased rate of safe discharges at state hospitals to take place. These activities are only possible with strong community partners committed to the safety and well-being of people under our care. DBHDS will continue pursuing both short and long term solutions through the holiday weekend and beyond. We appreciate all of the work that CSBs and state hospitals have done today to discharge as many individuals as possible and the continuing efforts of the CSBs to stabilize individuals in crisis in their home communities and identify willing private hospitals for individuals under a TDO who require inpatient hospitalization.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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