New law creates study to address Emergency Custody Order problems

Published: Apr. 11, 2022 at 8:25 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin signed more than 100 bills into law last week including one aimed toward finding solutions to problems related to Emergency Custody and Temporary Detention Orders.

Senate Bill 202 instructs the State Secretary of Health and Human Services to partner with the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security to conduct a study looking at ways to increase the use of alternative custody arrangements for individuals in a mental health crisis being held under Emergency Custody Orders (ECO) and Temporary Detention Orders (TDO.)

The goal is to reduce the burden on law enforcement who often have to wait with a patient for hours or even days.

“If they could be released from that duty then that could get your law enforcement back on the street. That would be ideal in that situation,” said Ellen Harrison, executive director of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Community Services Board, or HRCSB. “The question is who would step in? Whether or not they say, ‘Hey, you could use hospital security or a private company. I don’t know.”

Harrison said HRCSB averages about 95 mental health evaluations a month for people in crisis. The board also averages about 40 evaluations a month for emergency custody orders.

“Usually, this is a pretty significant crisis by this time and we’re evaluating whether that person needs to be hospitalized, stepped down to something like crisis stabilization, or can they be released back into the community,” she said.

Harrison said most of the issues related to ECOs and patients not being able to get the treatment they need in state hospitals or in other ways can be traced back to staffing problems across the mental health field.

“Psychiatry is a desert almost in our area in terms of trying to find it. We offer it but we are way maxed out in our capacity,” Harrison said. “There’s a long waiting list for outpatient services. In the private industry, it’s nine months to a year to get in to see someone for therapy.”

Harrison said there would need to be multiple parts to a solution to the current issues regarding ECOs.

“We would need participation as able from the private hospitals to be able to take people who need in-patient treatment and to have a location like a bed available for them to get the mental health treatment in the hospital,” she said.

Another piece to fixing the problem would be building out the entire mental health system of care in the community.

“So you can get ahead of people before they hit a crisis and you can make it a better transition when they’re getting out of the hospital and wrap services around them so they don’t circle back again into the hospital into crisis,” said Harrison.

SB 202 requires the state secretaries to the Governor and the House Committees on Appropriations and Health, Welfare and Institutions, and the Senate Committees on Education and Health and Finance and Appropriations by October 1st, 2022.

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