Waiting On The Sidelines To Fix An Obvious Flaw: Welcome To Mental Health In Virginia


A family friend spent two days waiting in Fairfax County recently for mental health officials to find a crisis care bed for her adult child.

Two days waiting in one of the wealthiest counties in America because there were no beds!

The former head of the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Service Board said that Fairfax County sends an average of two hundred persons having a mental health crisis to other counties each year because there are not enough crisis beds available in Northern Virginia.

State Sen. Creigh Deeds was refused help when his son was psychotic because there were no beds available to him locally in rural Virginia  and a state worker dropped the ball looking at hospitals further away. A panel of experts testified earlier this month on Capitol Hill that there is a shortage of hospital beds nationally. One of those experts said a state should have 50 beds available for every 100,000 residents. Virginia averages 22 beds.

Yet, Virginia Interim Health Commissioner Dr. Marissa Levine   denied a request recently from a company that wanted to build a 75-bed crisis care treatment facility in Woodbridge, Virginia, just down the road from Fairfax. More than two thousand residents had signed a petition supporting it and Cynthia Dudley, who runs a Woodbridge mental health drop in center, said the hospital beds were “desperately needed.”

Dr. Levine called building a hospital “premature.”

Premature? After everything that has happened in Virginia?

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Don’t Attack A Bill Without Reading It! Rep. Murphy Lectures MHA’s Leader

Key testimony begins at 1:38:47 and lasts only five minutes. 

I missed a key congressional hearing last Thursday about Rep. Tim Murphy’s Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, that has become the most significant mental health legislation moving through this session of Congress. Fortunately, several readers sent me emails about an exchange between the Pennsylvania Republican, who is the only member in Congress who has been a practicing psychologist, and David Shern, the interim head of Mental Health America, the oldest organization in the country that was founded by persons with mental illnesses.

You can read Shern’s written testimony here, but the fiery exchange came near the end of the hearing after Donna Christensen, the Virgin Islands’ delegate, tossed Shern several softball questions that allowed him to criticize Murphy’s legislation.

Shern didn’t really care for anything substantial in Murphy’s bill and that attack set the stage for Murphy’s retort. Murphy didn’t mince words, especially after Shern acknowledged that he hadn’t taken time to read Murphy’s bill in its entirety before publicly skewering it.

Deservedly so, Murphy was frosted. A mental health lobbyist told me recently that Murphy is the only legislator “who really gives a damn” about fixing our mental health system. I think there are others, but his determination and passion certainly shows itself in his response to Shern.

(You can read my analysis of Rep. Murphy’s bill by clicking here. Or you can read the entire bill here.) 


A Night With Washington’s Powerful Supporting Mental Health


Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) and Singer Judy Collins 

I attended the annual Remarkable Journeys gala last night, an annual fundraising event which benefits Green Door, a non-profit, community based mental health agency in our nation’s Capital.  Each year, Green Door provides care to more than 1,800 adults with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depression and other mental illnesses. One of the reasons why I admire Green Door is because it not only offers psychiatric help, but also hope, through housing and supported employment programs, both of which I believe are essential to recovery.

I often am asked to speak at fund raisers and many of them are for fabulous agencies just like  Green Door. But the Remarkable Journeys gala is different. Why? Because this event brings together some of Washington’s powerful elite – each of whom seem to check their egos, their politics and their status at the door, and enter prepared to support the Green Door mission.  My friend Michele Oshman, a Green Door board member, invited me to my first Green Door gala a few years ago, and at that time she told me what a special event it was.  She convinced me to become a donor and we’ve been attending the event together ever since.

I’ve lived too long in the D.C. area to be star struck. That’s not why I am impressed by the many D.C. ‘movers and shakers’ I see at the Green Door gala each year. This gala reminds me that mental illnesses don’t discriminate. No one is immune, not even powerful attorneys, wealthy business leaders, members of Congress,  or journalists. I’ve also been around politicians enough to know that when they attend events like this, they stop in to make a quick speech, shake a few hands and head out the door.

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Mental Illness: Ten Times More In Prison Than State Hospitals – A National Scandal


The Treatment Advocacy Center in conjunction with the National Sheriff’s Association released another damning report today about the growing number of persons with serious mental illnesses being locked-up each year. Entitled:  ”The Treatment of Persons With Mental Illness in Jails and Prisons: A State Survey,”  the report says there are ten times more people with serious mental illnesses in state prisons (207,000) and county jails (149,000) than there are in state mental hospitals (35,000.)

In 44 of our 50 states, the largest single “public mental institution” is a prison or jail. The report noted that Cook County Jail in Chicago, Shelby County Jail in Memphis, and Polk County Jail in Des Moines, individually hold more inmates with serious mental illnesses than all of the state mental hospitals in Illinois, Tennessee, and Iowa.

The ten times figure is significantly higher than what was found in a similar study done four years ago and released by TAC, a non-profit mental health advocacy group. In that study, the number of mentally ill individuals in prisons and jails outnumbered those in state mental hospitals by a three to one margin.

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Hospitals vs Community Care: Why Are They Seen As Enemies


Why are there limited choices when it comes to mental health reform?

Last week, I published excerpts from Rep. Tim Murphy’s recent hearing entitled:  “Where Have All the Patients Gone? Examining the Psychiatric Bed Shortage.”  Experts at that hearing explained how a lack of crisis care beds has frustrated mental health workers and contributed to  jails and prisons becoming our new mental asylums.

The last excerpts that I published Saturday came from Arthur C. Evans Jr., the director of mental health services in Philadelphia who acknowledged the bed shortage but added this caveat:

“It is counterintuitive that the solution to a perceived inpatient bed shortage is to build a strong community-based service system. But, experience consistently shows this to be the case. An over emphasis on inpatient beds can drain needed resources away from the very services that prevent people from needing crisis services.”

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Philly Expert Says: Mental Health Problems Are Solvable

Dr. Authur C. Evans’ Testimony Begins at 1:09:36


“It is counterintuitive that the solution to a perceived inpatient bed shortage is to build a strong community-based service system. But, experience consistently shows this to be the case. An over emphasis on inpatient beds can drain needed resources away from the very services that prevent people from needing crisis services.” Arthur C. Evans Jr.

The director of mental health services in Philadelphia told the House Energy and Commerce subcommitte that most individuals can recovery. His city provides early intervention, Mental Health First Aid, Crisis Intervention Training for police and wrap around services, such as housing.

Community-based outpatient treatment and support services can prevent the need for inpatient services; communities differ dramatically in these resources. Outpatient resources and support services are part of any equation to understand the drivers of the utilization of inpatient psychiatric treatment. These community-based resources include intensive outpatient therapy, partial hospital services, intensive case management, assertive community treatment, and other community support systems, such as safe housing, Click to continue…