Currently, when a person is experiencing a mental health crisis and is taken into “emergency custody,” that person may be determined to be in need of some further care in order to avoid harm. In Virginia’s crisis mental health process, the person is evaluated by a mental health professional and a special justice may then place the individual in “temporary” custody, for a maximum of 72 hours. During that 72 hours period, treating professionals try to determine whether the person is immediately dangerous. If so, within those 72 hours, the treating hospital can seek an additional order from the court, this one for involuntary commitment, if the person is not willing to get treatment voluntarily.
That’s the process, very broadly, in Virginia. The Virginia Legislature is considering proposals to adjust aspects of that process. Some, like HB 1975, seek to establish a minimum amount of time that a person can be held, in addition to a maximum amount of time. HB 1975 says that a person held on a temporary detention order must be held for a minimum of 23 hours.
It is a complex issue that the General Assembly considers almost every year. The thinking is that often, someone in crisis needs a short period of stabilization — some opportunity to be away from a stressful situation, perhaps, or to get some medication. Proponents of the bill believe that, with a period of stabilization, no further hospitalization will be needed. But, they note, sometimes a hospital may rush someone to a hearing, because of scheduling challenges.
Opponents worry about requiring a minimum amount of time for a hold, especially when a person may not be in any need of continued treatment after a few hours.
At the dLCV, we have not taken a position on these “minimum” time bills in the past, because the mental health community is divided on the topic. We are interested in your opinion. What do you think?