It’s quite rare that a public tragedy allows us to connect dots this clearly, but the horrifying case of Gus Deeds stabbing his father, Virginia politician Creigh Deeds, is one such case. We begin with this sentence, from the Richmond Times-Dispatch account of the incident:
The son was evaluated Monday at Bath Community Hospital, Cropper said, but was released because no psychiatric bed could be located across a wide area of western Virginia.
Hmmm. And why would that be so? Just one of those things? The usual pre-Thanksgiving rush? Not really. As Think Progress notes, the likely culprit here is that Virginia cut funding for psychiatric beds by 15 percent between 2005 and 2010. Certainly, 2005 would mean the cuts started under Democratic governors—first Mark Warner, and then Tim Kaine. They continued under current GOP Governor Bob “Rolex” McDonnell, who then proposed even deeper cuts last year.
What’s going on in Virginia is going on nationally. Try this statistic on for a shocker. The per capita state psychiatric bed population in 2010 in the United States was identical to the figure for 1850. Yes, 1850, around when the very idea of caring for mentally ill people first started! Then and now, the number 14.1 beds per 100,000 population.
Between 2009 and 2012, states cut $4.35 billion from mental health services, which eliminated nearly 10 percent of all beds in just those three years. This is while 10 percent more people have been seeking services. I remember when I covered state and local politics in New York, mental health services were always among the first things on the chopping block. No constituency with any political power at all, just a bunch of do-gooders pleading for officials to do the right things. Which in fairness a lot of them want to do, but most don’t end up doing.
Now let’s bring in the reviled Obamacare. It requires for the first time in American history that mental illness treatment of some kind will be included and covered in all plans. Such coverage has been a comparative rarity until the ACA. There’s more good in the law for people who live in the states that have accepted the Medicaid expansion, as it will provide funds for treatment for many people who haven’t qualified up to now because of extremely strict eligibility requirements, which will be loosened under the expansion. I’ve written on this before. It’s not going to fix everything, because no system devised by human beings ever does, but these two changes will help millions of suffering people.
We have a long way to go on mental health in this country. I don’t know if Republicans quite think that the mentally ill, like the poor, are enfeebled through some fault or moral flaw of their own, and if they just collected themselves and started thinking sensibly about things they wouldn’t need all this “help.” What I do know is that they somehow end up opposing most things government and mental-health professionals support. I’ll leave you to speculate on the why.
But this morning, we know this. Gus Deeds should have been in a psychiatric ward yesterday. That he was not, as I noted above, was a bipartisan failure. But it sure would be nice to see a bipartisan success for a change—Republicans joining Democrats to do more for mentally ill people. They could start with the new law that’s doing more on this front than pretty much any in our history, but of course they’re just going to vote another 50 times to repeal it.