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Virginia Behavioral Health Commissioner Ferguson resigns to take policy post

The state's chief of mental health, Debra K. Ferguson, commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, DBHDS,has resigned effective Oct. 20, after little more than a year on the job.

Bill Hazel, Virginia secretary of health and human resources, announced the resignation to staff in an email late Monday.

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Ferguson, who came from Illinois in April 2014 to take Virginia's top mental health job has accepted a position as Senior Advisor in the Governor's Policy Office.

"Dr. Ferguson has been instrumental in moving the agency forward on a number of critical fronts, and we will miss her vision and dedication," wrote Hazel. "In the interim, Dr. Jack Barber will serve as Interim Commissioner. Dr. Barber has many years of experience in the mental health profession, and I know that you will all help him as he takes on this new challenge."

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Ferguson, a clinical psychologist, inherited a state agency whose oversight of mental health policies had been under intense scrutiny since the November 2013 tragedy involving the death of Austin C. "Gus" Deeds, the son of state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath. Gus Deeds attacked his father with a knife, then committed suicide.
The Deeds Omnibus Bill passed by the legislature encoded several reforms in the emergency response system -- including extending the length of emergency custody orders and temporary detention orders, and mandating state hospitals as beds of last resort -- that took effect on July 1, 2014.

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When she took office last year, Ferguson told the Daily Press, "The number one priority is strengthening and expanding the emergency response system and making sure that they [people in mental health crisis] get access to appropriate care and disposition."

Just last week, when a report from the disAbility Law Center of Virginia pointed to the overuse of restraints at Eastern State Hospital, Ferguson responded that the new emergency laws had put undue pressure on existing resources.

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