Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Deeds family tragedy and the shortage of mental health care in rural America

The apparent suicide of Austin "Gus" Deeds on Tuesday--following his attack with a knife on his father, former Virginia gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds--has cast attention on the shortage of beds in psychiatric wards, especially in rural areas.  Gus lived with his father and stepmother in Millboro, Virginia, an unincorporated community in rural western Virginia's Bath County, population 4,731.  The New York Times reports
On Monday, state mental health officials unsuccessfully sought to find a bed in a hospital psychiatric ward for Gus Deeds, who had undergone an evaluation, according to Mary Ann Bergeron, the executive director of the Virginia Association of Community Services Boards. 
None could be found and he returned home, even though a magistrate had issued an order of involuntary commitment. “In that particular rural area of the state, it is not unusual to have contacted anywhere from seven to 15 hospitals” looking for an available bed, Ms. Bergeron said.
Dennis A. Cropper, executive director of Rockbridge Area Community Services, said Gus Deeds was evaluated at Bath Community Hospital, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch. Mr. Cropper issued a statement late Tuesday declining to elaborate, citing the family’s wish for privacy.
On the issue of psychiatric bed availability, including in rural areas, NPR reports:  
Starting in the 1960s, many psychiatric hospitals were closed because treatment in the community was considered a more humane and less costly alternative. But outpatient treatment can be difficult to find, especially in rural areas. And inpatient care is still needed, especially for people considered at risk of harming themselves or others.
Creigh Deeds has represented the 25th District in Virginia since 2001, and he was in the Virginia House of Delegates for nine years before that.  Deeds narrowly lost a race for Virginia Attorney General to Bob McDonnell in 2005. Deeds was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2009 but lost by 17 points to Bob McDonnell. 

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