EDITORIAL: Overdue attention to mental health crisis

Published 8:00 am Friday, December 16, 2022

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We were pleased by Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s announcement this week of plans to create a task force to find solutions for Virginians who need critical mental health care.

The state’s Temporary Detention Order, or TDO, system is terribly broken, endangering not just mentally ill people but their families and others. 

Youngkin said his Prompt Placement TDO Task Force will bring together government agencies, public and private hospitals, law enforcement and other community partners to address the crisis facing people with TDOs who are waiting for behavioral health services.

“It is critical that we address the mental health crisis and prioritize caring for Virginians,” Youngkin said. “I’m committed to making substantial progress in providing access to resources, caring for Virginians and reforming the TDO process.”

We’ve all heard, if not lived, horror stories about dangerously ill people harming themselves or their loved ones because there’s no place to put and treat them. Suffolk police spend valuable time, which could otherwise be devoted to preventing crime and tracking down criminals, making repeat visits to the homes of mentally ill people and to emergency rooms, where many of those people are taken by their families. 

It’s long past time to begin addressing the problem as a health crisis and not the responsibility of the criminal justice system, which has its hands full. 

“Virginia’s current TDO process is bad for patients, care providers, families and law enforcement who wait with these patients for a placement,” said Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources John Littel. “This task force is a key step in improving the behavioral health system across the commonwealth.”

Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Chiefs of Police Association, called the initiative “the most dedicated effort we have seen in 25 years towards trying to address the problem of getting mental health beds available to people,” he said. “This effort is way overdue, and in the end, it should save Virginian’s lives and save much-needed law enforcement resources.”

In the 14 months from June 2021 to July 2022, there were 21,099 TDOs in Virginia, state officials say. The average wait time for someone under a TDO to receive a placement and care has risen to an unacceptable 43 hours.

Objectives of the task force include ending the TDO waitlist, finding rapid placements for people under a TDO, releasing police officers from spending significant hours away from patrolling the streets, ensuring the safety of all parties and “setting the stage for lasting systematic change to the way Virginia processes TDOs.”

We support it wholeheartedly.