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Mental health commission considers proposals

Richard Bonnie told members of the Mental Health Law Reform Commission today that the commission took a gigantic first step in the 2008 General Assembly session “but it was a first step.”

Bonnie, the University of Virginia law school professor who chairs the commission, said it will monitor the changes approved by the legislature and continue to make recommendations to improve the system. He spoke at the Williamsburg Hospitality House at the last meeting of the commission before the assembly convenes in January.

A major recommendation will be a revision of the advance medical directive statute that would “empower people [with mental health issues] to have the maximum amount of control over the treatment they receive.”

It would allow those persons to designate when they are competent who they want to make mental health decisions for them when they are not able to make those decisions themselves.

Another proposal would allow a magistrate to permit someone other than a law enforcement officer to provide transportation for a person for whom an emergency custody or temporary detention order has been entered.

Sheriffs long have chafed at the requirement that their deputies provide the transportation, and the condition of the person may be such that it would be much less traumatic for him to be transported by a family member, a community services board representative or someone from the facility where the person is being evaluated or detained, said Senior Assistant Attorney General Jane Hickey.

Most sheriff’s departments have a policy of requiring the person to be handcuffed while in their custody, and the restraint frequently adds to the trauma, Hickey said.

Dr. James S. Reinhard, commissioner of the Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services, told the group that cuts required by a state budget shortfall will limit the effectiveness of measures approved earlier this year that included more staff to monitor and provide therapy after a person has been committed for mental health treatment.

He noted that 39 of the 280 positions in the central office of the commission will be eliminated because of the shortfall. Leaving vacancies open and retirements will reduce the number of layoffs to four, he said.

By Alan Cooper

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