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Mental health reforms a good start, say providers in western Virginia

Published On: Mar 10 2014 07:52:29 PM EDT   Updated On: Mar 10 2014 09:02:05 PM EDT

Roanoke professionals react to Mental Health legislation


Before leaving Richmond on Saturday, state lawmakers approved changes they hope will ensure Virginians have access to the psychiatric care they need, especially when they're facing a crisis situation.  Local providers are now reviewing the changes, but say they should represent a good start.

There are four major changes. Lawmakers extended the time someone can be held on an emergency custody order. They called for an online, realtime bed registry. They required the state to provide a bed of last resort, and ordered a new four-year study of the mental health system.

The Chief Executive of Catawba Hospital says it's important to make sure the people who need mental health services can access them.  "I think that the legislation that was passed should make sure that those folks don't fall through the gaps, that there are resources available," said hospital director Walton Mitchell. "And I think any time you can do that you've made improvements in the system."

The Director of Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare says mental health providers appreciate any additional help lawmakers can offer. "We'll be looking more closely at the details as time unfolds," said Debbie Bonniwell, "and we're certainly hopeful those will make some improvements."

And mental health advocate Diane Kelly says the four-year study will be critical.  "It's important I think to recognize that this is not an issue that just comes up  every 4 years or every 8 years that an infusion of money or a change in policy will suddenly make a difference," said Kelly, the Executive Director of Mental Health America Roanoke Valley. "It's something that has to be an on-going concern."