The mental-health task force that gathers Tuesday in Richmond will face the same overall challenge that has confronted 15 previous task forces and studies.
Gov. Bob McDonnell, in appointing 36 leaders and members of the force, said it should review shortcomings in the mental-health system and recommend ways to fix them.
McDonnell, who turns his office over to Democrat Terry McAuliffe on Saturday, is asking the task force to find solutions for community-based services that vary from place to place and often lack funding, particularly in rural areas.
Those problems have been identified by earlier task forces as far back as 55 years ago, according to research by Chuck Hall, director of the Hampton-Newport News Community Services Board.
About 40 such CSBs provide mental-health care close to recipients’ homes, including Horizon Behavioral Health in Lynchburg, but a dozen task forces have said methods of care and funding vary from one community to another.
Four studies from 1997 through 2000 each found the same nine needs for locally based, readily available services, and the same two barriers to providing them. The barriers were lack of funding and uneven services, according to Hall’s report.
Some recent studies and task forces in the past 10 years have led to improvements in the system, particularly since 2007 when Virginia Tech student Seung Hui Cho killed 32 students in their classrooms.
Sweeping changes to state laws were made in the following two years, addressing such issues as adult commitment criteria, procedural requirements, disclosure and privacy provisions, and commitment procedures for minors, according to Virginia’s Joint Commission on Health Care.
Nearly $42 million was spent on the changes, which were recommended by the Virginia Tech Review Panel and two other groups that probed the tragedy.
McDonnell’s task force was prompted by the November stabbing of state Sen. Creigh Deeds by his son, Gus, who then killed himself in their Bath County home. A mental-health official said a bed hadn’t been available that day for Deeds’ son in a health-care facility.
“Virginia’s mental health system can sometimes be difficult to navigate for families seeking assistance, or even for workers inside the system,” McDonnell said.
In planning for the task force, McDonnell said it also was prompted by the Virginia Tech shootings.
“Virginians have experienced tremendous heartache as a result of mental-health tragedies,” McDonnell said, emphasizing gaps that remain in the state’s ability to deal with, or prevent, mental-health crises.
The McDonnell task force is expected to deliver its first recommendations by Jan. 31.
McDonnell, in the budget he proposes this year, recommends that $38.3 million be spent on mental health and substance-use disorder programs.
The General Assembly will have five weeks, until its March 8 adjournment, to decide how to use those funds to turn the task force’s proposals into policies that improve health care.