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Providing Mental Health Services Challenging for Rural Communities, Official Says

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Virginia's mental health system is coming under scrutiny after a report surfaced that Senator Creigh Deeds's son Gus was released from an emergency custody order for a mental health evaluation just hours before he stabbed his father and killed himself at their Bath County home.

According to that report, which was published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the executive director of Rockbridge Area Community Services said Gus Deeds was released because mental health workers were unable to find him a psychiatric bed.

RACS later released a statement saying they could not confirm whether anyone was issued an emergency custody order, citing the family's privacy.

The group explained, though, that a person under an ECO can only be held for up to six hours while a mental health professional evaluates them. If that professional determines the person needs a psychiatric bed space, they have find them a location within that same time frame.

"I do not know what the specifics were about this case and I actually cannot talk about them," said Percy Nowlin III, a member of the RACS Board. "But in general, beds have been a problem and there have been waiting lists."

Nowlin, who is also a former school superintendent and former Bath County supervisor, defended RACS Wednesday, saying rural communities like Bath County face many challenges when it comes to providing mental health services.

"The Rockbridge Area Community Services Board provides emergency services here and they are a really efficient and effective community services board," Nowlin said. "It's just that there are a lot of miles between here and Lexington and we sometimes seem to be outside the mainstream."

He says there are currently no full-time psychologists or psychiatrists in Bath County, so when a person needs emergency help, one has to be called in from Lexington, which is more than an hour away from most areas in the county.

"We just can't, money-wise, sustain a full-time professional here," Nowlin said.

In addition, Bath Community Hospital, the county's only hospital, says it's not equipped to provide inpatient mental health services.

"We depend on other health care providers for mental health services," the hospital wrote in a news release. "Our protocol requires us to contact Rockbridge Area Community Services Board for assessment and treatment determinations for any patient needing mental health services."

Nowlin says a shortage of beds has been a recurring problem, especially since the state stopped operating a mental health institution in nearby Staunton several years ago.

"Unfortunately, I think it's incidents like this that probably bring out a need," Nowlin said.

He says he hopes state leaders will revisit the mental health issue and try to find ways to increase funding, particularly for rural areas.

"Creigh has been very dear to all the people in Bath," Nowlin said. "These tragedies really wring the hearts of each and every citizen. We hope and pray for his speedy recovery, and we're extremely sorry and send our deepest condolences to the family over the loss of his son."