Del. Ken Plum: Virginia, Fairfax County Making Advances in Mental Health

by Del. Ken Plum April 20, 2017 at 10:15 am 12 Comments

This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Virginia has the distinction of having had the first mental health hospital in the country, although it was called an insane asylum, which more correctly described the work it did.

From colonial days to the present, the role of the state in providing treatment and services for those with mental illness has been widely debated, filled with different theories and approaches, and always critically underfunded. It took a massacre of students at Virginia Tech and a state senator’s son attacking his father with a butcher knife, then shooting himself, to bring a higher level of urgency and seriousness to the discussion. A commission has been meeting the past couple of years and will continue to meet for at least a couple more to develop recommendations on what the state should do.

In the meantime, some hopeful progress is being made. After the Virginia Tech shootings, state appropriations for mental health programs were increased dramatically, only to be reduced again after the onset of the recession. Funding for programs for those with mental illness has been slowly increasing again but still does not come close to the levels requested by professionals in the field. Additional funding was provided in the most recent General Assembly session to allow for transitional housing. Statewide, there has been more clarification of the role of the Community Services Boards for the treatment of mental illness.

The practice of “streeting” persons, by putting them back on the street when there was no treatment option available to them, has largely been stopped. Emergency and temporary custody orders can be issued to ensure that those needing emergency care will receive it. Crisis treatment centers are being opened around the state.

We are blessed in Fairfax County that local government has for decades been offering mental health treatment and services well beyond that provided in most parts of the state. The most recent example is the Diversion First program, which just issued its first annual report. The program came about from the recognition that more than a quarter of the inmates in local jails have mental illness. They came into contact with law enforcement because of a behavior that needed treatment, not incarceration.

Sheriff Stacey Kincaid, the Fairfax County Police Department and the Community Services Board cooperatively put together a program that offers alternatives to incarceration for people with mental illness or developmental disabilities who come into contact with the criminal justice system for low-level offenses. As stated in their annual report, the goal is to intercede whenever possible to provide assessment, treatment or needed support in an appropriate setting for those who struggle with mental illness, developmental delays or substance abuse, instead of jail being the default solution. In its first year of work, the program diverted 375 persons from jail into treatment programs. Both money and lives are saved with the shift of emphasis.

More about this important new service made possible by Fairfax County government officials working together is available at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/DiversionFirst.

  • 40yearsinreston

    So who was the delegate when the Mental health Services and accommodations for the mentally in hospitals were almost dismantled and the numbers cut by 90%?

    No prizes for guessing the right answer

    The investigation of the death of a mentally ill person was stonewalled by Kincaid and Bulova until the were forced to make changes

    • Jenny Gibbers

      I think the correct answer is Ronald Reagan.

      • 40yearsinreston

        It was Clintoon

  • The Constitutionalist

    Virginia’s mental health advances can’t be that noteworthy with Tyrant Plum running around spending your money and not his own.

    • Willie Reston


      • The Constitutionalist

        What is difficult to understand about my comment?

        • Willie Reston

          Everything. Setting aside your crazy notion that a politician should use his own money to fund public services, you’ve failed to connect how Plum’s spending habits have anything to do with the noteworthiness of these mental health programs. How are they related? I think you stretched too far in an attempt to shoehorn in one of your favorite tropes here.

          • The Constitutionalist

            Any money that Plum spends is your money. Nowhere in my comment did I say anything about Plum spending money on public service.

            The greatest public service would be for Ken to retire… or admit himself to one of the aforementioned programs..

            Liberalism is a mental illness. Let’s go down a short list. Put a check next to anything that describes you or your ideals.

            Selfish, callous, and remorseless in their use of others.
            Pathological lying.
            They fail to accept responsibility for own actions and live a chronically unstable, antisocial, and socially deviant lifestyle.
            Parasitic lifestyle.
            Poor behavioral control.
            Lack of realistic, long-term goals.
            Irresponsibility (repeated failure to fulfill or honor commitments and obligations).
            Many short-term marital relationships (lack of commitment to a long-term relationship).
            Criminal versatility (diversity of criminal offenses, whether or not the individual has been arrested or convicted).

            Straight from the DSM 4 (I left some out to be considerate).

            You need not be a goateed psychiatrist with a German accent to conclude liberals/Democrats are anti-social misfits.

            Congrats, you’re a psychopath.

  • Mike M

    Is there any business in which the County should not spend our money? Space program, anyone?

    • The Constitutionalist

      The only thing the county won’t spend our money on is tax breaks.

  • drb

    Let us first recognize that Mental Health services and government funding are two separate issues that are not related in most instances.

    The increase in government funding we saw after the VTech shooting was sold as an action that would stop future like shootings. In fact after all was said and done the legislation and accompanying funding did literally nothing to work towards that goal. This was a typical knee jerk reaction from Liberals and their cohorts in the media to “never let a crisis go to waste” and weak and fickle Republicans jumped on it to show they cared. But, it in no way did anything to help the issue at hand.

    The Mental Health programs have been ineffective and frankly pretty much worthless. Yes, it can help those that have minor health issues but do little to nothing for those that have big issues like bipolar and worse.

    “Streeting” persons were the result of Liberals that found it unacceptable the way Mental Health institutions was handling these individuals. Putting them on the street and giving the patients the last say so on what will occur to them instead of the institutions and the family that had a better understanding of the level of danger they were to society. This type of bleeding heart philosophy carried over to the legal system so that the only avenue to handle these individuals was incarceration. Instead of taking the low level offenses and using that to stop things from becoming worse we decided that their individual Liberty was more important than their inability to make sound judgments. Around and around we go till we are right back here.

    We are here where Medical understanding of Mental Health is really only marginally better than it was when Virginia opened its first mental health hospital. The Medical Community has no effective answer to the problem of handling those with mental health issues and the legal restrictions placed on the medical community and the patient’s families.

    This doesn’t even take into account the vast differences between public Mental Health and private. If you are fortunate enough to afford private care then you will receive pretty good care. But, again it is all voluntary by the patient since the law doesn’t allow for forced care. And even in the private they are limited by the lack of ability to treat serious issues because they just do not know how.

    That is the crux of the matter. There are no answers as to how to help patients with serious illnesses while letting them have autonomy over their lives. The answers that they do have offend our sensibilities. This is not a funding problem so stop trying the same old Liberal tricks of using the tragedies of people to take money away from the citizens.

  • Greg

    “Fairfax County Making Advances in Mental Health” We were unaware that Fairfax County has or had mental-health issues, Ken Plum.


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