Sen. Creigh Deeds Sues Mental Health Officials, New York Gov. Orders Homeless Off The Streets, Philanthropist Ted Stanley Dies


Virginia state Sen. Creigh Deeds has filed a $6 million wrongful death suit against mental health workers, New York’s governor is ordering local governments to take homeless individuals off the streets during frigid weather and mental health philanthropist Ted Stanley has died.

These three stories caught my eye this week. I’ve printed the Washington Post’s account of Deeds’ lawsuit at the end of this blog. Deeds is suing the state, the mental health agency that serves his community, and the mental health evaluator who failed to find a hospital bed for his son, Gus, who was sent home untreated. Gus attacked his father before killing himself. Mental health workers are understandably concerned about the suit.

Should a mental health provider and evaluator be held responsible for not providing treatment?

I am surprised that New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s decision to force homeless people into shelters once the temperature drops to 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below isn’t getting much attention. “It’s about love. It’s about compassion. It’s about helping one another and basic human decency,” Cuomo told reporters.

That common sense compassion caused an uproar when New York Mayor Ed Koch announced in 1985  that he would begin taking homeless, mentally ill individuals off the street at night during freezing temperatures. New York’s American Civil Liberties Union sued for the release of Joyce Brown, a homeless, psychotic women who had been forcibly removed and hospitalized. She had spent more than a year living on a steam grate clad at times only in a cotton blouse and skirt with socks on her feet and a sheet wrapped around her body during frigid nights. Brown would rip up money she panhandled, run into traffic, and expose her bare buttocks and scream racial slurs and profanities. A New York judge ruled in favor of releasing Brown back to her steam grate, stating that Brown was “an experienced street professional” and therefore fully capable of being homeless. The city appealed that ruling and won, but the ACLU lawyers continued the fight and eventually Brown was ordered released. You can read an excellent account of that case in Madness in the Streets, by Rael Jean Isaac and Virginia C. Armat. 

Her release was heralded by civil rights advocates as a major victory but her family was horrified. Will the ACLU and other groups protest Cuomo’s decision or have attitudes about mental illness and homelessness changed?

I learned yesterday that a great friend to mental health, businessman Ted Stanley, had died at age 85. In my book, CRAZY: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness, I recount how Ted Stanley and his wife, Vada, became alarmed when their son, Jonathan, became delusional in Manhattan while a college student. The Stanleys had become rich from selling decorative plates, commemorative postage stamps and other collectibles through the mail. NYPD cops dropped Jonathan off at a hospital and when Ted Stanley got there, he was dismayed to learn that doctors were discharging Jonathan without treating him because he wasn’t considered dangerous. That incident ultimately led to Ted seeking advice from Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, who’d recently published his landmark book, Surviving Schizophrenia. With Torrey’s guidance, the Stanley’s began donating money to mental health groups, initially the National Alliance on Mental Health. It was Stanley seed money that created the Treatment Advocacy Center. During their lives, the Stanleys donated more than $1 billion to mental health organizations, the largest donations ( some $825 million) in support of work at the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research Institute, which brings together faculty from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University to research the causes of mental illnesses. Their son, Jonathan, recovered from his bipolar disorder and today is a lawyer, teacher, and mental health advocate.

“There was a pill that saved his life. Essentially, it gave him the ability to have a normal life with a normal functioning brain,” Mr. Stanley said later. “If I had had the same downfall at the same age that he had, I would have had my life ruined . . . because in between when I was that age and he was that age, someone had discovered that lithium makes people well when they have that illness.”

Unlike Congress, the Stanleys put their money were their mouth was and we are better for their generosity.

Release about Ted Stanley

The Death of a Research Giant 

            The death of Ted Stanley on January 4 deprives the psychiatric research field of a philanthropic giant.  An extremely successful businessman, he chose to spend his money on research on serious mental illness, especially schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, rather than on yachts or Caribbean hideaways.  On occasion he was even known to fly coach, rather than business or first class, in order to have more money to donate.

            The creation of the Stanley Medical Research Institute (SMRI) in 1989 by Mr. Stanley and his wife, the late Vada Stanley, has had a major impact on schizophrenia and bipolar research.  Over the past 27 years the Stanleys donated almost $600 million to SMRI.  This money has supported extensive research on the causes and treatment of these diseases.

            For example, SMRI has funded over 400 treatment trials using drugs that were unlikely to be supported by the pharmaceutical industry because the drugs could not be patented and therefore could not be profitable.  The Stanley funds were also used to set up the Stanley Brain Collection, the most widely used brain bank in the world by researchers for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  Over the past 20 years it has distributed without charge over 250,000 samples of brain tissue, as well as DNA and RNA, to 303 research laboratories in 22 countries. Finally, the Stanley funds were used to set up the Stanley Laboratory of Developmental Neurovirology at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center.  This laboratory has become the leading research center in the world for research on infectious causes of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  SMRI’s coordinated research efforts are the primary reason for the emergence of inflammation as a major research area for these diseases and the likelihood that infectious agents play a role in the causation of at least some cases.  This in turn has led to the current use of anti-inflammatory drugs to treat these diseases, thus opening up a completely new avenue for treatment.

            In addition to funding research at SMRI, Mr. and Ms. Stanley also funded psychiatric research at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York and at the Broad Institute in Cambridge. In 2014 Mr. Stanley donated $650 million to the Broad Institute to support research on the genetics of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  Thus, altogether the Stanleys donated more than $1.2 billion to research on these diseases.

            All of us in the mental health field have lost a remarkable friend and supporter.  We are extremely indebted to Mr. and Ms. Stanley, and we should try and live up to the very high standard in commitment to this research that the Stanleys have set.

Maree J. Webster, Ph.D.

Director, Stanley Medical Research Institute

E. Fuller Torrey, M.D.

Associate Director, Stanley Medical Research Institute

Robert H. Yolken, M.D.

Director, Stanley Laboratory of Developmental Neurovirology

Va. Sen. Creigh Deeds sues the state, others for $6 million in son’s suicide

By Jenna Portnoy. The Washington Post

State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds has filed a $6 million wrongful death lawsuit against the state of Virginia, a mental health evaluator and an agency that did not find a hospital bed for his mentally ill son, who in 2013 stabbed the senator before killing himself.

The lawsuit alleges that the mental health evaluator, Michael Gentry, and the Rockbridge Area Community Services Board exhibited gross negligence and medical malpractice by mishandling a crucial six-hour window for admitting Deeds’ son on Nov. 18, 2013.

“Virginia’s mental health care system failed my son, Gus,” Deeds said in a statement. “I am committed that my son’s needless death shall not be in vain, and that no other Virginia family suffer this tragedy.”

In seeking a psychiatric bed, the lawsuit says, Gentry failed to contact hospitals that were later found to have had beds available for 24-year-old Austin “Gus” Deeds, a William & Mary student. The suit further alleges that Gentry brushed off pleas from the young man’s mother, Pamela Miller Mayhew.

“Pam begged Gentry to have Gus hospitalized,” according to the lawsuit. “Pam told Gentry that Gus was in a very bad place. She told Gentry that Gus would kill Creigh and himself if he was not hospitalized.”

The lawsuit was filed in November in Bath County Circuit Court and circulated to reporters Tuesday.

A spokesman for Attorney General Mark Herring, who represents the state in the lawsuit, said his office is reviewing it.

“Attorney General Herring served with Sen. Deeds for years in the Senate and, like everyone, has nothing but respect for him. We just found out about this suit so we’ll have to review it with our client agency and reply to it as appropriate,” Michael Kelly said.

John Young, executive director of Rockbridge Area Community Services Board, declined to comment Tuesday. Attempts to reach Gentry were unsuccessful.

The tragedy prompted widespread support to improve the state’s mental health system. Months later, the legislature passed and Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) signed a law that allows more time to find psychiatric placements for patients under custody orders. It also compels the state to maintain a “real-time” online registry of available beds, a project that had been in the works for years but did not come to fruition until after Austin Deeds’s death.

In his House testimony in support of mental health care reforms, Va. state Sen. Creigh Deeds describes his experience seeking help for his late son. (Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

The lawsuit lays out the circumstances leading up to the attack.

On Nov. 18, 2013, a local judge issued an emergency custody order for Austin Deeds after his father expressed grave concern about his behavior, and the young man was taken to Bath Community Hospital.

He waited for several hours before the Rockbridge Area Community Services Board dispatched Gentry to conduct an evaluation. The lawsuit says Gentry knew or should have known of the young man’s history of mental illness and previous suicide attempts.

Gentry did not evaluate him until the initial four-hour custody order was nearly expired. Yet he quickly determined that Austin Deeds met the criteria for hospitalization and began calling facilities to find a placement, while the local judge extended the custody order for two additional hours.

Of a list of more than two dozen facilities, Gentry contacted seven private facilities — although he said he contacted 10, according to the lawsuit.

He faxed Rockingham Memorial Hospital twice, but it was later revealed that he had the wrong number and did not follow up. At least five area hospitals, including Rockingham, had beds available, the lawsuit says.

The state has long been aware of shortcomings in the mental health services system.

After the mass shooting at Virginia Tech, the state inspector general in 2012 published a report that highlighted the problem of “streeting,” or releasing people who pose a threat to themselves or others because a psychiatric bed is unavailable, according to the lawsuit.

At the time, the state did not implement recommendations from that report, including the creation of an online bed registry and interventions for when a bed is not found, the lawsuit says.

The Rockbridge Area Community Services Board — which covers Rockbridge, Bath, Lexington and Buena Vista — administers services for individuals in mental health crisis on behalf of the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.