RICHMOND (WWBT)- In the wake of the tragedy surrounding Sen. Creigh Deeds, mental health reform has become a serious focus in Virginia's General Assembly. Deeds himself has been the champion of that cause, making a passionate plea for reforms to the confinement process at committee hearings where his proposals have been hotly debated.
We went in search of proposals related to fixing the breakdowns in mental health treatment and discovered that in many cases it is not an issue of the treatment itself, but the access to the services.
Mental health professionals roundly agree that the system itself works. It is the navigation of and funding for the system that allows for cracks in coverage.
Kristin Yavorsky is a front line social worker. She helps people dealing with mental health issues every single day in her capacity as the director of supportive services for Virginia Supportive Housing. Yavorsky goes out into the field and works to connect homeless people with stable housing.
Yavorksy believes the Commonwealth needs to specifically invest in the following areas to prevent future tragedies like Virginia Tech and the Deeds situation.
*Access to treatment
*Being able to see a doctor
*Being able to pay for medications
*Having access to a case agent to help get income/navigate the system
That is not an all encompassing list, but the building blocks of basic treatment that is lacking many Virginians under the current conditions.
For Yavorsky and others, the Deeds tragedy was a renewed call to action.
There is no one solution to the mental health crisis, but the problem is not one of solutions- it is one of access, and the willingness of the state's leaders to make it happen.
"This was a failure of the system," Yavorksy said of the Deed's tragedy.
Yavorsky watched what happened with the Deeds family and knew it was the system that let the prominent family down.
She thinks the problem is pretty simple.
"You get what you pay for and for decades Virginia has not invested in community based health services," she said.
Not invested enough even though the state was the site of one of the worst mental health related tragedies in American history, the shootings at Virginia Tech.
"Virginia ranks in the top quarter in terms of per capita income and almost always we rank in the bottom quarter of states in terms of what we spend in terms of community based healthcare," said Yavorsky
But even though we don't make the investment that doesn't mean we don't have the answers.
"It's remarkable the effect that the right intervention can have," said the social worker.
It is a matter of connecting the treatment with people in need, and the Deeds tragedy is bringing people of all stripes to answer that call.
People like Jarrod Nagurka and Patrick MacDonnell, two guys who disagree on everything from who they voted for governor to what they think of Obamacare.
The two students head up the UVA college democrats and republicans respectively. But when they learned of Deeds tragedy, they put their party affiliations aside and went to work.
"We both have the best interest of our commonwealth and our communities in our mind," said Nagurka.
The two groups drafted legislation that is currently making its way through the General Assembly that would set up a system to help college students easily access mental health services. It is a system that could've helped Gus Deeds, a college student dealing with a serious problem.
The bill has made it out of a subcommittee, but was stripped of a key component. An online module that would've helped students better assess and report mental health situations. That component came with a $100 thousand initial price tag and $100 thousand a year in ongoing costs to maintain.
"We need to have this discussion, that is the only silver lining," said MacDonnell. "It is a true tragedy."
A discussion is important, but for Yavorsky- it is vital the talk doesn't end when the General Assembly goes home.
"We pay for state hospital beds we pay for emergency rooms we pay for law enforcement intervention when the less expensive option is also the more recovery oriented, the more effective option and it's not available to some folks," she said.
Yavorsky argues the number one way to close the gap on mental health treatment is to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. It is a proposal Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) strongly supports, but House Republican leaders flatly reject.
And it won't be long before the Deeds tragedy is no longer in the spotlight, but the struggles of those dealing with mental illness will never go away.