VCU representatives join state task force on mental health services

Ananda Pandurangi, M.D., medical director and chair of inpatient psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, and VCU Police Chief John Venuti have been named to Virginia’s new Task Force on Improving Mental Health Services and Crisis Response. Members will review existing mental health services, identify challenges to the mental health system and outline ideas for improvements.

Gov. Bob McDonnell announced the task force on Jan. 2. The group will meet for the first time on Jan. 7.

Pandurangi and Venuti are among three dozen representatives on the task force, which includes members from the mental health field, law enforcement, the judicial system, hospitals and the legislature. Also included on the task force are recipients of mental health services and their families. The group will make recommendations, including legislative and budget proposals, to improve mental health procedures, programs and services.

“It is a great opportunity to represent campus law enforcement in examining the challenges experienced in the mental health community,” said Venuti, who was recently named assistant vice president for public safety at VCU.

Pandurangi said he will advocate for implementation of an integrated mental health crisis response system to include bed management, the development of specialized short stay inpatient units and increased access to outpatient mental health services across the state with reduced wait times. And, in the long term, he would like the state to work closely with universities to develop best practice models and a strong mental health workforce.

“My perspective is that mental health services are undervalued and underdeveloped, and there is a major disconnect between the exciting developments in brain science and treatment of mental disorders in the field,” Pandurangi said.

In his announcement of the task force, McDonnell said Gov.-elect Terry McAullife plans to issue a similar Executive Order to continue the group’s efforts under his administration.  
The task force will make initial recommendations by Jan. 31 and issue a final report by Oct. 1.

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Ananda Pandurangi, M.D.
Ananda Pandurangi, M.D.
Police Chief John A. Venuti
Police Chief John A. Venuti