By Associated Press - Wednesday, May 28, 2014

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) - Another high-ranking official is leaving the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.

John Pezzoli, the department’s chief deputy mental health commissioner, plans to retire on Sept. 1.

Pezzoli, 68, has been with the department since 2010. He was named acting commissioner of the department after James Stewart II retired in January. He served in that position until March when Gov. Terry McAuliffe appointed Debra Ferguson to replace Stewart.

Pezzoli announced his retirement Tuesday in an email addressed to friends and colleagues. The email was obtained by The Daily Progress ( ).

“My wife is also retiring this summer and we are starting this new chapter together after we both have made our work a top priority for a long time,” Pezzoli said. “We are looking forward to new adventures together, especially traveling to see our two daughters who both live far away.”

Deputy Commissioner Olivia Garland retired in January and another executive, Heidi Dix, left the department that month.

Virginia’s mental health system has been in the spotlight since Nov. 19, when Austin “Gus” Deeds, 24, stabbed his father, state Sen. Creigh Deeds, more than a dozen times, then killed himself with a rifle at the family’s Millboro home. The younger Deeds had been released 13 hours earlier from an emergency custody order after a mental health clinician failed to find a psychiatric bed so that he could undergo further evaluation.

Since November, Pezzoli has overseen the implementation of key recommendations from a 2012 report by the inspector general’s office that focused on shortcomings in the state’s system of emergency services. The report warned of the dangers of releasing people needing further care because available beds cannot be found.

Bill Hazel, secretary of Health and Human Resources, commended Pezzoli for his work helping oversee “a significant change in leadership at the department.”

“(Pezzoli’s) years of experience have been invaluable to Dr. Debra Ferguson, our new commissioner,” Hazel told the newspaper through a spokeswoman. “She is now in the process of selecting a new chief deputy. The changes taking place in the department will not distract from our greater goals.”

Earlier this month, Creigh Deeds filed a notice of intent to sue four local governments that are served by a community services board over treatment his son received shortly before attacking the lawmaker.

Deeds made mental health reform his top priority during this year’s legislative session. Lawmakers passed and McAuliffe signed into law new rules that would prevent release of the mentally ill under emergency custody due to a lack of bed space.


Information from: The Daily Progress,

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