In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the county is offering mental health first aid courses on virtual platforms.
In previous years, the courses — Metal Health First Aid — were offered in-person by Fairfax-Falls Church Community Service Board‘s Wellness, Health Promotion and Prevention team. The courses offer information about the warning signs and symptoms of mental health concerns.
Below is more from the county on the initiative.
In response to COVID-19, MHFA is now virtual. With updated content and information on trauma and self-care, virtual MHFA participants will continue to learn how to identify, understand, and respond to someone struggling with a mental health concern or misusing substances. The Youth MHFA version includes updated material for adults working with school age children on issues of social media, trauma and bullying. The content is gender neutral and culturally relevant.
Marla Zometsky, Manager of CSB’s Wellness, Health Promotion & Prevention team, says, “No one is immune to mental health concerns. The MHFA training helps to change the discussion around mental health and challenges the stigma associated with mental health which often stops people from getting help.”
Previous MHFA participant Sandra shared with us, “The course greatly helped me to understand how to talk to someone who is exhibiting signs of a possible mental health crisis. Prior to taking this course, I was very uncomfortable discussing these types of issues with anyone.”
Registration and online work is required before attending the courses. Participants must complete a two-hour module and take part in a nearly seven-hour, instructor-led virtual Zoom class.
The registration fee has been waived for the Tuesday, Jan. 12 training.
Depression Photo by Ben Blennerhass/Unsplash
FCPD Mourns Loss of Director — The Fairfax County Police Department is mourning the loss of Larry Magni, director of the department’s facilities and security division. Magni, who died from COVID-19, was “an officer and a civil engineer by trade” who “cared more about the safety and wellbeing of FCPD than he did about anything else,” FCPD wrote. [FCPD]
Virtual Dog Daze in Lieu of Lake Fairfax Park — Although the water mine at the Reston-based park is closed, dogs can still take part in a virtual dog daze from Sept. 4 through 14. A donation of $10 per dog is suggested. [Fairfax County Government]
FCPS to Host Mental Health Conference — The Fairfax County Public School System is hosting its 7th annual mental health and wellness conference over a three-week period beginning Monday, Sept. 14. [FCPS]
Photo via vantagehill/Flickr
At the Reston Hospital Center, staff members are seeing a decline in both COVID-19 and non-COVID-related patients.
Compared to August of 2019, Reston Hospital Center Emergency Room admissions are down 20 percent and the hospital only had six COVID-19 patients currently, which is the lowest number since May, according to David Jacobs, the chairman and medical director for Reston Hospital Center’s emergency department.
But, this trend is concerning, Jacobs said — especially when it comes to non-COVID related visits.
The downward trend is partially due to people avoiding the emergency room in fear of catching COVID-19 at the facility. Additionally, people aren’t coming in close contact with others, and therefore avoiding catching other communicable diseases, Jacobs added.
Jacobs says he’s concerned over the drop in admissions since this means people might not be seeking help when they need it, leading to medical complications that otherwise would have been avoidable.
Examples of this include not being able to diagnose appendicitis in time or someone ignoring the beginning stages of a heart attack, Jacobs said.
To keep people safe when they come into the emergency room, the Reston Hospital Center has set up strict protocols, according to Jacobs. These include separating people with COVID-19 from other patients, use of personal protective equipment, regular temperature checks, the requirement of face masks for anyone who enters the building and frequent cleaning.
When considering a visit to the emergency room, Jacobs said there is little risk of catching COVID-19 at the facility since staff members stick to the health protocols set in place. It is far more dangerous to ignore symptoms and avoid seeking medical help, he said.
Jacobs said people should seek immediate medical attention when they notice warning signs such as:
- difficulty speaking
- unusual and sudden weakness in legs or arms
- chest pain
- new or worsening abdominal pain
One grievance Jacobs said he has heard repeatedly from patients is that they find it difficult to schedule a time to meet with their regular health care providers.
“I think the whole medical system is readjusting and struggling with how to safely see patients,” he said, adding that Reston Hospital Center has availability for people who need to be seen. “We are open and we have capacity.”
Practitioners are also concerned about an increase in drug and alcohol abuse.
“I think more people are out of work and have more time on their hands,” he said adding that people have also been coming in with mental health issues such as depression and suicidal thoughts that can feed off from stress associated with the pandemic.
Though the medical facility doesn’t have a detox center on-site, it does have medical professionals who can give consultations and direct people towards further help.
Some good news is on the horizon. Unlike elsewhere in the country, Jacobs said he hasn’t noticed a rise in child abuse or domestic violence cases at Reston Hospital Center.
“I’ve certainly heard and read about that but can’t say that I’ve experienced that or heard about a spike in the Reston area,” he said. “I think that’s an issue of concern that follows with a lot of these drug and alcohol and psychiatric related issues but I think to-date we haven’t seen a spike in our department.”
Going forward, Jacobs said he hopes people won’t avoid the emergency room because of fear over COVID-19, as hesitation could be deadly.
“We have five months of experience with this,” he said.
Photo courtesy Reston Hospital Center
County officials are considering a plan to no longer dispatch police officers to non-violent incidents.
At a meeting earlier this week, Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk and Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn pushed the county to dispatch unarmed medical, mental health and human services workers for incidents involving mental and behavioral health issues. The proposal was unanimously approved by the board for consideration.
County staff will review the local dispatch and response system in order to “enhance our Diversion First strategies by implementing systems for the deployment of trained unarmed medical, human services, and mental health professionals in instances where mental and behavioral health are the principal reason for the call.”
The new system would model Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS), an approach adopted in Eugene, Oregon since 1989. The county will determine if a similar approach is suitable for Fairfax County based on potential initial costs, long-term budget savings, overall feasibility, and the expected impact on service.
The county’s Public Safety Committee will review the county’s findings and offer a recommendation to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors by Oct. 1.
Roughly 20 percent of calls that FCPD officers respond to are primarily related to mental and behavioral health crises.
In a board matter, Lusk noted that FCPD should “endeavor to be the smartest” and not only the “safest” jurisdiction of its size in the nation.
Currently, only 40 percent of county officers are trained in crisis intervention.
Body camera footage of a white Fairfax County firing a stun gun at a Black man in Gum Springs led Lusk and Alcorn to push for the board matter. Officer Tyler Timberlake shot La Monta Gladney with a stun gun and used his knee to hold him down. Gladney was speaking incoherently prior to the use of force incident as officers persuaded him to go to a detox center.
A copy of the board matter — without the motions — is below, after the jump.
Updated 6:25 p.m. — Corrects a reference to the survey as a study and that the 825 were FCPS staff members — not all teachers.
After COVID-19 disrupted Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) earlier this spring, teachers, staff and school board members are trying to find ways to offer more mental health support.
Throughout the last several months of remote learning, the focus has been on a combination of peer-led programs, remote family check-ins with school-sponsored mental health staff and a message of “resiliency,” according to Bethany Koszelak, a mental health specialist for FCPS.
“Yes, this has been hard on a lot of people, but most youth are resilient and bounce back,” she said, adding that FCPS has been coordinating with teachers to keep an eye on students who might need help.
Mental Health Chain of Command in FCPS
In the FCPS system, regardless of age or year, students typically have access to a therapist, psychologist and social worker who can provide social-emotional support.
Counselors, which Koszelak considers to provide something called “tier one” support, provide guidance lessons to cope with emotions and social issues. If students need additional support, they will be referred to the school-sanctioned therapists and psychologists by the counselors.
As the county’s school board considers a boost in funding for social-emotional learning in the next school year, part of the funds — if approved in the next few weeks — would go toward hiring more staff and possibly bringing on additional mental health professionals full time, according to Koszelak.
Though nothing is set in stone, Karl Frisch, who presents the Providence District on the school board, said he wants to improve the infrastructure for mental health.
“The last several months have likely caused some trauma here and we need to be in a position to respond to it,” he said. We anticipate students will have an increased need.”
Rising Demand for Mental Health Support
Though Koszelak said she doesn’t have statistics to back up an increase request, a survey released by the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers reported that 55% of the 825 staff members who responded said that their students’ mental health had deteriorated since the start of distance learning.
Still, students are not the only ones at risk for mental health challenges.
More than 90% of the teachers said that their stress level has increased since the start of distance learning in March.
“Respondents chose school counselors to have the highest positive direct impact on student mental health and social-emotional needs, followed by social workers, psychologists and parent liaisons,” the survey takeaway said, backing up the school board’s idea.
Among top sources of stress for teachers, many said that they felt anxiety over technology failures, a lack of direction from FCPS leadership and difficulty adjusting to new technology.
“They need to check in with teachers and really care how we’re doing. Right now, the only message we hear is you’re failing. Not providing mental health support to elementary during this time is so WRONG! These kids need it just as much as the middle and high school kids… If anything, we will all need increased mental health support when returning to school because we are all struggling right now,” one survey respondent wrote.
FCFT sent the survey results to Tysons Reporter on May 12, before the murder of George Floid that re-sparked wide-spread outrage over systemic racism and police brutality.
It is unclear how this might add a toll to students/staff mental health but Koszelak said that there are options for students to incorporate discussions about civil rights and current events in the classroom. She added that students even begin to learn about civil rights and Martin Luther King Jr. in the second grade.
Meeting an Invisible Need
In reality, though, the need for help is likely elevated since Frish said that students and families don’t always know how to ask for help when they need it or even realize that it could help.
Around the country, statistics show that issues like domestic violence and child abuse have risen since the start of lockdown since places like child care centers, schools and offices that would typically recognize signs of abuse in-person are closed.
“Children are specifically vulnerable to abuse during COVID-19. Research shows that increased stress levels among parents [are] often a major predictor of physical abuse and neglect of children,” the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration said in an online article.
To combat this, FCPS teachers were told to look for signs of violence and abuse while interacting with their students over Zoom, Koszelak said, noting that if a student wasn’t coming to class, a school counselor would be sure to reach out to the family.
“The teachers still had live video conference calls with students,” according to Koszelak. “You can gauge when there are some concerns and the teachers know there are protocols to reach out to the clinicians.”
In addition to basic screening measures, FCPS mental health experts were also keeping a keen eye on families with a history of known problems, she added.
Additional Resources for Students and Families
FCPS offers a variety of programs to assist both students and families.
- Parent Resource Center: tips on how family support will benefit students
- KOGNITO: a walk through difficult conversations with students
- Student Voice Campaign: student sourced media on healthy coping mechanisms
- Mental Health First Aid for youth
- Our Minds Matter Virtual Club Meeting
- Parent Wellness Consultations: for middle and high school students
Some of these resources are met with concerns though: “I did Mental Health First Aid training several years ago, but it was never implemented at my school,” one teacher wrote in the FCFT survey.
“I think there needs to be widespread training in this program at each school for any and all teachers, coaches, counseling staff, and administrators who are willing and able to handle it because we need as many resources for students and staff as possible,” the teacher added.
Looking Ahead to Upcoming School Year
Though kids are on summer break, the Fairfax County School Board is considering hiring 10 more mental health care specialists and increasing funding for various social-emotional learning programs.
Board members are considering a $7 million addition to the program but it is still uncertain how the money would be distributed.
They are expected to vote on changes and plans for the upcoming school year during the upcoming June 26 meeting, according to Koszelak.
In times of uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic, many expectant mothers are facing unforeseen challenges.
Lack of knowledge around and educated guesswork around the coronavirus behalf of doctors can be unsettling — especially when dealing with the lives of newborn babies.
Around Reston, OBGYN offices such as the Virginia Women’s Health Associates in Reston are changing tactics to help new mothers and pregnant women stay safe by offering more online resources and flexible appointment dates for women who are experiencing flu-like symptoms.
The Virginia Women’s Health Associates are even offering online appointments through a new portal system.
For everyday care, local OBGYN offices are taking extra preventative measures to help patients respect social distancing measures and ensure the health of their patients.
Because of the lack of research doctors, such as Amy Banulis, a certified doctor out of Falls Church who published a professional article in the Northern Virginia Magazine, are recommending that expectant mothers be sure to practice self-isolation and be sure to take care of themselves not only physically but mentally as well.
“While there is currently no evidence that you are more likely than anyone else to be infected with COVID-19, you may be at higher risk of developing a severe case,” Banulis wrote. A similar statement can be found online from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
When it comes to breastfeeding and other concerns, the CDC said breast milk usually provides protection against infection and has not been shown to transmit COVID-19 in “limited studies.”
A local mom in Falls Church said that she took extra precautions leading up to her delivery date.
“I just feel the research out there is limited. I’m skeptical and don’t want to take a risk,” Nicole Sud, who recently gave birth to twins at a Virginia Hospital Center, said.
Before her delivery date, Sud said she self-isolated — only leaving the house for doctor appointments and had neighborhood friends help deliver groceries and essentials. She said that her primary care doctor didn’t recommend any additional steps for keeping healthy beyond the CDC’s guidelines for the public.
When Sud was first checked into the hospital, said she doctors gave her one surgical mask and a paper bag to put it in. Surgical gloves that would typically sit by the sink in any doctor’s office had been removed because of thefts, Sud said.
After Sud delivered the twins, she was disappointed because the couple learned the hospital nursery was closed due to COVID-19 concerns.
To ensure that the couple’s two-year-old daughter didn’t catch anything at the hospital and pass it onto the newborns, her pediatrician suggested that the young girl live with Sud’s in-laws for two weeks before returning home.
Upon discharge from the hospital, nurses simply included a COVD-19 packet among other materials typically given to mothers, Sud said.
Photo courtesy Nicole Sud
Tiki Bar Opening in Reston — The team behind Sense of Thai St. a bar and restaurant in Ashburn’s One Loudoun, is currently building the bar at RTC West. Tiki Thai bills itself as the state’s “premier tiki bar and Thai restaurant.” [The Burn]
FCPS to Offer Mental Wellness Service — “Any FCPS parent may schedule a 30-minute phone consultation with a school psychologist or school social worker, for either themselves or their middle or high school student. This consultation provides an opportunity for parents to receive guidance on how to support their child’s emotional well-being during their time away from school. Student consultations will provide support and strategies to students who may be experiencing difficulties with anxiety, mood, behavior, or peer or family interactions during this unprecedented and challenging time.” [Fairfax County Public Schools]
The Problem with Playdates — “If your kids do go outside of the home, it is important to maintain social distance of at least six feet from anyone from outside their own household. This guidance is in place to limit contact and slow the spread of COVID-19, because even though children do not appear to be at higher risk for COVID-19, and often show similar but milder symptoms than adults, they can still pass the virus on to others.” [Fairfax County Government]
Photo via vantagehill/Flickr
Before we tear off the remaining couple of pages on the May calendar, I want to address the important recognition of May as Mental Health Awareness Month. While Virginia is credited with having the first mental health hospital, or asylum as they were called in the 18th century, the Commonwealth has had difficulty in recent times coming to grips with the enormity of the need and the provision of funds to respond to those needs. In fact Virginia is ranked 40th in the nation in mental health care according to the results of a national study of the issue. It took a state senator’s mentally ill son attacking his father with a knife to shock the state to greater action. That father now chairs the Joint Subcommittee on Mental Health Services in the 21st Century, or the Deeds Commission, that includes Sen. Janet Howell as a member and has made critically important recommendations on which the state has made significant progress.
Special thanks go to The Commonwealth Institute for documenting recent progress and remaining opportunities in behavioral health in a recent edition of The Half Sheet. The Institute, which is a nonprofit organization focusing mostly on human service needs, used the term “behavioral health” to be more comprehensive than “mental health” to include mental health services and supports such as substance abuse treatment. The Institute recognized accomplishments this past year to include a 21 percent increase in Medicaid reimbursement to encourage more licensed mental health professionals to accept Medicaid thus increasing access to services for people with low income. Additional funding for emergency opioid kits will expand the access to and availability of Naloxone, which is used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. The General Assembly also passed and the Governor signed my bill to expand the health care providers authorized to dispense Naloxone to make it more readily available.
Increased funding was provided to increase staffing at state mental health facilities that are struggling to keep up with demand. Funding was also approved to replace the aging mental health facility Central State Hospital. In addition, monies have been made available for transportation of persons needing mental health hospitalization from having to be transported by law enforcement.
The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services indicates that there is a need for 5,000 permanent housing units for those who need supportive housing in the state. This year’s funding along with an increase last year will provide 1,300 units of supportive housing. Obviously, there is a severe need to do more in this area with a price tag of about $47 million.
Challenges remain to be addressed in providing greater access to programs and services for those who live in rural areas and to those who have experienced the trauma of having been exposed to the immigration and refugee system. A task force is looking at ways to increase the number of mental health professionals in the state.
Our awareness of mental health needs cannot end with the month of May. More needs to be done!
A Reston man suffering from hallucinations fired several gunshots against imaginary kidnappers that he said were holding a child hostage in his town home.
The incident happened on May 7, according to court documents filed by the Fairfax County Police Department in Fairfax County Circuit Court.
A police officer arrived on the 1500 block of Poplar Grove Drive after the man told police kidnappers were holding a young child inside his townhome.
When an officer got to the scene, the man ran out of the home with a fully loaded gun, according to police. The officer handcuffed him and searched the townhome.
Police found no one in the home, but did spot two shell casings and evidence that two rounds were fired at a wall. No injuries or damages resulted.
The suspect was released on recognizance, after the man was held involuntarily “for his safety and the safety of the public” under a temporary detention order, according to the documents.
Police executed a search warrant to seize additional weapons from his home.
The suspect was arrested and charged with one misdemeanor count of the reckless handling of a firearm on Tuesday (May 21). He will be arraigned on May 28.
Reston Now does not publish the identity of suspects involved in cases with mental health implications.
The message of Dr. Nadine Burke Harris to the 900 Virginia health, education, and human services professionals and advocates at the Voices for Virginia’s Children Summit on Childhood Trauma and Resilience last week was clear: Virginia, as well as other states, needs to move forward promptly on an evidence-based early human services program to screen for adverse childhood experiences and coordinate resources to respond to the needs. It was not a hard sell to the audience. They had already given her a lengthy standing ovation before she started her speech. Most knew of her pioneering work from her book, The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity, or her Ted Talk, “How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime,” that has reached over 2.8 million viewers on www.ted.com/talks. She is known for linking adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress with harmful effects to health later on in life. She founded the Center for Youth Wellness and is California’s first Surgeon General.
According to Dr. Harris, exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACE) including abuse, neglect, domestic violence and parental mental illness and substance abuse affect 34.8 million children across socio-economic lines and affect not only brain development but can change children’s hormonal systems, immune systems and even their DNA. The results are behavioral problems, learning difficulties and physical health issues. In adults, exposure to ACEs dramatically increases the likelihood of 7 out of 10 leading adult causes of death including heart disease and cancer.
For Dr. Harris early detection is key. Screening for ACEs in children is possible and with appropriate support services the existing and future harm to children’s brains and bodies caused by toxic stress can be alleviated. As Dr. Harris told the group in Richmond, “routine screening for ACEs at pediatric well-child visits should be as common as checking for hearing loss or exposure to lead paint. With early detection children can be treated and saved from a lifetime of health issues.”
Virginia currently has 19 communities throughout the state that have programs referred to as “trauma-informed community networks” that are at various stages of development of programs and services utilizing the findings of research on trauma and its impact on public health. There is little doubt that Dr. Harris’s visit will increase interest among practitioners and policy makers as to a more widespread use of the results of studies on ACEs. An effective program of ACE detection and intervention could lead to reduced health care costs, better performance of students in school, and a better quality of life for those involved. In the long-term, costs would be low or minimal as better diagnoses of conditions should lead to more effective treatments and a reduction in costs.
I look forward to working with Voices for Virginia’s Children–celebrating its 25th anniversary at the Summit–and its advocates to determine the most effective ways to make all programs trauma informed that will serve the entire Commonwealth. Such an approach will reduce the lingering harm that can come from undetected adverse childhood experiences.
Official Herndon Town Council results are in — Pradip Dhakal came in fifth place for the election, taking off Joe Plummer from one of the six candidates to take a seat on the council and sliding incumbent Bill McKenna to sixth place. [Reston Now]
Sharing mental health battles — Local first responders share their mental health battles in an effort to help others. [NBC 4]
Get your skates on — The Reston Town Center ice skating pavilion opens tomorrow at 11 a.m. for public ice skating and daily skate rentals. [Reston Town Center]
Herndon High School Theatre presents The Diary of Anne Frank — A performance of the play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett begins tomorrow. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for adults. [Herndon High School]
Photo by Tina
The approval last week of Virginia’s expansion of Medicaid benefits to close the coverage gap for persons of low income without health insurance coverage was an historic event. After six years of opposition the General Assembly passed the necessary authorizing legislation to allow Governor Ralph Northam to go forward with federal authorities for approval of federal health benefits for as many as 400,000 Virginians with limited income making the Commonwealth the 33rd state to enter the program.
Approval of the program was part of a budget deal that completes the current budgetary year and authorizes funding for the entirety of state government for the next biennium. The expanded program will take effect on January 1, 2019. In addition, acceptance of the federal monies that have already been paid by Virginians through the taxes supporting the Affordable Care Act allows the new budget to free up some of the state monies that have been expended to meet the needs that will now be in the Medicaid program.
About $200 million will be used to raise teacher salaries, expansion of mental health and substance-abuse services, fund almost 1,700 additional waiver slots for those with intellectual or developmental disabilities and expand preschool and programs for at-risk students.
After such an historic action, where do we go from here? Much remains to be done in changing policies in the Commonwealth which while not necessarily budgetary will have an important impact on our communities. Among these are responding to the threats to life and safety brought about with the excessive number of guns that are too often in the hands of violent individuals. Passing common sense measures like universal background checks would make a difference as well as simple measures that keep guns out of the hands of children. Inaction on ending gun violence is not going to be tolerated by citizens much longer.
We have been making slow progress on a variety of mental health issues, but there is much that still needs to be done. One step is to separate those who are mentally ill from those who are criminal. Mixing the two together in local jails and prisons has been a too-common occurrence that serves only one effectively. Likewise, separating juvenile misbehavior from criminal behavior is necessary to reduce the prison population and recidivism and to stop the classroom to prison pipeline.
We need to speed up our movement from the use of fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. With the abdicating of responsibility for environmental matters by the federal government, we need to have a more active state presence to ensure that our air and water are clean. Also, we need to ensure that our laws, institutional practices, and norms do not promote or allow racism, sexism or other discriminatory practices directed towards others for whatever reason. We need to make sure that elected and appointed public officials comport to the highest ethical and moral standards.
That’s the short list. Where do you think we should go in state government building on the success of Medicaid expansion? Let me know your thoughts [email protected] When we have clear goals and set our collective minds to the task we can get results. Expansion of Medicaid proves it!
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.
Afghan Immigrant Shares Story — Today, he works out of government service provider SOS International’s headquarters in Reston, where he lives with his family. A mere two years ago, Naveed was an interpreter in his home country helping with counter drug-dealing operations. While he says daily life in Afghanistan is not the harrowing experience Americans may imagine, he is happy to have his family safe in the U.S. [Fairfax Times]
Community Services Discussion Slated — The Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board says it is taking a “fresh look” at how it prioritizes mental health, substance abuse and developmental disability issues. The board wants to hear the opinions of citizens regarding what matters most to them and how they feel it should be handled. The board is hosting a series of community dialogues on the topic, the first of which is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 16, at the Northwest Center in Reston. [Fairfax County]
Herndon Seeks Input on Proposed Budget — The Town of Herndon will host a public hearing Tuesday, Feb. 14, to discuss its FY2018 budget proposal. Comments may also be made online. [Town of Herndon]
Last month, the disAbility Law Center (dLCV) issued a report on the condition of mental health services in Virginia. It is an eye-opening report: Broken Promises, the Failure of Mental Health Services in Virginia. (Broken Promises Report)
Its findings are direct: “Despite the promises of reform to the mental health service system in the last decade, Virginia’s mental health services system fails to serve many of those in need of its services.”
According to dLCV, there are more than 40,000 Virginians living with serious mental illness and thousands more with less serious emotional disorders that require treatment including an estimated 130,658 children between the ages of 9 and 18 who need treatment. The dLCV which advocates for all people with disabilities to be free from abuse, neglect, and discrimination considers the problem in part to be a misallocation of resources.
As its report points out, on any given month about 10 percent of residents of state hospitals continue to be hospitalized even though their treating professionals have found that they no longer need to be hospitalized. Thirty-one of the 133 individuals in such hospital placements in November, 2013, had been waiting for discharge for more than a year. The problem is that there are inadequate or nonexistent facilities or programs in the community to continue services to these persons. At the same time, there were an estimated 26,990 inmates confined in local and regional jails of whom nearly 25 percent were known or suspected to be mentally ill. More than 3,500 persons in jails were diagnosed with a serious mental illness.
The dLCV maintains that funding is misdirected towards unnecessary hospitalization when funding is needed desperately for community-based crisis response services and housing options for people with mental health needs. Their position is not without controversy. Others maintain that both more hospital spaces and more community-based facilities are needed.
The tragic event surrounding the family of Senator Creigh Deeds has brought the need to the public’s attention. Outgoing Governor Bob McDonnell has proposed a more than $50 million increase in the budget for mental health services and has established a commission to develop a plan for mental health services in the Commonwealth. There is bipartisan support to address the issue in terms of additional funding as well as to amend existing statutes to permit persons who are a danger to themselves and to others to be held for a longer period of time until appropriate treatment is available to them.
We are past the time when we should have met the promises for reform to persons with mental health problems and their families. The 2014 session of the General Assembly must respond. You can view my interview with Colleen Miller, Executive Director of disAbility Law Center of Virginia and another interview with George Braunstein, Director of the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, both on the topic of mental health reform at Virginia Report.
Del. Ken Plum (D-36th) represents Reston in Virginia’s General Assembly. He can be reached at [email protected].