Is the Creigh Deeds lawsuit all about the money? You bet it is.
Virginia state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) sued his state for $6 million this week, blaming its dysfunctional mental-health system and an incompetent evaluator for the death of his bipolar son, Gus.
And hours after news of the suit broke, folks were out there calling the case a “money grab” and saying that Deeds is “soaking the taxpayers.” According to one comment posted on the Washington Post’s website, by someone who uses the name of a dead gunmaker as his identity: “The taxpayers of the Commonwealth should not have to pay one red cent because some suicide took his own life. Time to #MoveOn, Mr Deeds. No free stuff for you.”
Move on? When your child is dead? When you will bear the physical scars of his burst of violence for the rest of your life? Not going to happen.
Because things went wrong the night Gus desperately needed help. Because the system that all Virginia taxpayers fund should work. Because people need to do their jobs right. Because there but for the grace of God go any of us. Or our children.
Austin “Gus” Deeds, a 24-year-old college student, stabbed and slashed his father 13 times, then killed himself with a rifle on a November morning two years ago, just hours after his family begged the mental-health system to help find a psychiatric bed for their troubled son.
“Virginia’s mental health care system failed my son, Gus,” Deeds said in a statement. “I am committed that my son’s needless death shall not be in vain, and that no other Virginia family suffer this tragedy.”
The family had been working with Gus on treatment and therapy for years after he was diagnosed as bipolar when he was 20. And they saw a bad cycle coming that night in November and got a court order that gave them only six hours to find a place to take him, a place where he would be safe from harming himself or others.
A lot went wrong in those six hours. A mental-health evaluator also named in the suit, Michael Gentry, said he called 10 of the 30 places that could take him, but phone records showed he really called seven. He gave up too early and sent Gus Deeds home.
The mental illness took hold of Gus’s brain, and a true tragedy unfolded.
His mom predicted something terrible would happen. You know what? The state sort of predicted it, too, a year before it happened.
The Virginia inspector general’s office warned that “streeting,” when a mental health patient is turned away because there are no psychiatric beds available, would become a crisis. They said this in 2012, and no one listened. A year later, when Gus Deeds died, state officials said they were trying to fix the problem but just couldn’t get it done.
“Bull,” responded Pete Earley, a former Post reporter and Virginia author who writes extensively on mental-health issues, including a book about navigating the mental-health system with his son. Before Deeds even filed his suit, Earley was writing about the need for accountability.
“A system that is broken will never change unless the public servants running it take responsibility for their actions and are held accountable for mistakes,” he said in a post on his website.
Will $6 million bring Gus Deeds back? Nope. Does Creigh Deeds plan a life of luxury at the taxpayers’ expense? Not likely.
But a lawsuit and the threat of a monetary loss may be the only motivator that works.
Just ask the family of David Rosenbaum, a former New York Times reporter who died after mistakes were made the night he was robbed and beaten in Northwest Washington, where he lived.
“It can be a motivator for change, a lawsuit, as well as a punishment for the people who have made a huge mistake,” said Marcus Rosenbaum, the victim’s brother.
His family filed suit against the city and Howard University Hospital. They got a cash settlement with the hospital, but the only condition of the no-cash settlement with the city was that it work on reforming the Emergency Medical Services system.
“I don’t know what else could we have done,” Rosenbaum said.
But Deeds is a lawmaker. Isn’t he the guy who gets the stuff done?
Some stuff, yeah. Deeds helped work on a law that the legislature passed and Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) signed that gives folks more time than a few hours to find a psychiatric bed for patients under custody orders. It also calls for an online registry of available beds. We can do that with hotel rooms or baseball tickets or Uber. Why shouldn’t we do that with hospital beds?
Even as a lawmaker, there is only so much Deeds can do to make people do their jobs, to pay attention, to care. To act like it’s their own kin out there in trouble.
The lawsuit is about accountability. And in too many ways, if you want people to listen, paying a serious price is the only language they understand.
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