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Experts Panel
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A Mental Health Crisis Should Not Be Against the Law

A few people will read the subject of this study and immediately wonder why this is a topic of conversation. After all, someone having a mental health crisis and it not being illegal should be common sense, right. For many nameless women and men across Virginia, that is simply not the case. In fact, an 18-year-old young person being supported at LEAF in 2021, learned that this isn’t the case as well. The police department of the City of Virginia Beach were forced to make a choice. On one hand, there was this 18-year-old person, whom they had just voluntarily taken to a local hospital for an observation on an ECO (emergency custody order), due to behaviors they felt were a danger to the person or others. While on the other hand, there is this security guard, who works on the unit for people with mental health crisis, who pressed charges, against the 18-year-old person, for assault. The law is clear that everyone has the right to feel safe, however, the security guard was within their scope of work and was still able to press charges for a person in a mental health crisis responding in a way that people in a mental health crisis does.

This is absolutely a problem. A clear solution to this would be to first screen all calls in order to see if anyone is in eminent danger (to self or others; this means visible weapons or attempts to harm are occurring) & streamline all crisis calls to include a behavior health professional to respond to the location of the person in need so that an assessment is conducted to determine level of need (this takes the liability away from law enforcement who sit through a training program and allows collaboration with professionals who operate within this scope of practice. From that point on, a determination can be made about the level a care a person needs, rather than having a person who is in a mental health crisis, merely sit and wait on their own body & mind to become a “weapon” against themselves or others.

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Person-Centered Practices Improves Professional Development & Reduces Discharges

In 2016, DBHDS developed competencies that licensed providers were required to ensure their personnel adhered to. These competencies are:

           • DSP Orientation Competencies (due upon hire and to be reviewed annually)

           • Behavior Competencies (required according to the tier level
             of the people receiving support within an agency)


           • Autism Competencies (required according to the diagnosis of the
             people receiving support within an agency)


           • Health Competencies (required according to the medical needs
             of the people receiving support within an agency)


Beyond the competencies, it is equally important to ensure that personnel not only receive training at the minimum level required by the state, but also receive ongoing training & support to ensure that personnel feel confident in the work they are providing. It is equally important for all personnel, administrators included, to understand their own person-centered needs. When stakeholders and team members are able to view their own needs on a document, it helps each person truly embody what it means to be person-centered as they provide services themselves each day. Through the professional development offered through LEAF, professionals must each begin with having a foundational understanding of person-centered practices and also be able to demonstrate what it looks like. In doing so, it has been known to reduce turnover. One agency has required that their personnel receive all of their onboarding training through LEAF for the past year and has only had 2 personnel out of 7 leave within that time period; both were for medical and family reasons.

This agency has only been in operation for a little over a year and also had their first licensure review with zero citations. The administrator of this agency has reported that they finally have the capability to truly oversee their agency and know that their staff has the proper tools to utilize. An additional agency has followed the requirements of person-centered practices into their onboarding training and also the suggestion of professional development throughout the year. In doing so, this agency has received 2 triennial license renewals and has seen a decrease on the documentation errors. LEAF’s training team goes through a series of questions with administrators to discover if they are mutually a good fit. Professional development is only successful when the administrators are person-centered and continue to develop as well. All agencies that go through LEAF’s training and receive ongoing support throughout the year, are noted as a behavior health affiliate on our website.

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Telehealth Makes Behavior Consultation & Psychology Consultation Services Accessible to More Families in Virginia

Telehealth is not a new practice. However, after the governor declared a state of emergency in 2020, this granted the behavior health industry the ability to reach families in various parts of the state, families with strenuous working hours, and become truly person centered for the focus people who prefer to hold sessions after 4pm. In 2020, LEAF began providing Behavior Consultation Services to families & providers beyond the Hampton Roads. A few of those areas include Chester, Emporia, Chesterfield, Fredericksburg, and Richmond. As of 2022, LEAF is now able to provider Behavior Consultation and Psychology Consultation to each of the 5 DBHDS regions through telehealth. There still remains a waiting list across the state and there are still people that are hesitant to utilize telehealth services.

In order to assist families and teams with this, LEAF holds monthly live information sessions on the third Wednesday of each month, so that people who need the support, their families, and other important people in their lives are able to login and learn more about these services & how they can utilize them through telehealth. LEAF offers these sessions during the day so that Community Service Board Professionals & Case Managers are able to attend; the replay is available as well. LEAF also provides a brochure that lists tips to prepare for telehealth and a visual video of various ways teams can engage in telehealth services. LEAF accepts referrals online 24/7.


“Although I was hesitant about Telehealth services, Mr. Patrick really gave me some great resources to use with my son. I didn’t think I would be able to get support without someone being directly in front of us.”

Support Coordinator
Chesapeake Integrated Behavioral Health


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