Jul 29, 2003
Virginia advocate for mentally ill dies
Caitlin Wright Binning exposed abuse, neglect
BY MICHAEL MARTZ TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Mentally ill people in Virginia have lost one of the
strongest voices they ever had.
Caitlin Wright Binning died of cancer Friday at her home
in Annandale. She was 37.
Mrs. Binning played a pivotal role in exposing abuse and
neglect in the state's mental-health system. As former director of
research at the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill-Virginia, she also
fought to make the system work better for the people who depended on it.
"She was the finest advocate in the entire
commonwealth of Virginia," said Valerie L. Marsh, executive director
of the Virginia branch of the alliance.
Mrs. Binning helped document the death of Gloria Huntley
in Central State Hospital near Petersburg in 1996, leading to a federal
investigation of the institution. She helped expose deaths at other state
mental hospitals and challenged the way the mentally ill were treated by
the system that was supposed to give them care.
"She was my moral compass and the agency's moral
compass," Marsh said. "She was the one who knew when it was time
to be outraged."
Mrs. Binning worked to change the state's laws for
guarding against abuse in state mental institutions and to create the
Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy. She promoted the use of the
Program for Assertive Community Treatment, which sends teams of
mental-health workers into communities to track and help the ill.
She pushed to change the law so Virginia no longer would
indefinitely institutionalize mentally ill people who pleaded guilty to
minor crimes because of insanity. She worked to make more mentally
disabled and impoverished people eligible for Medicaid benefits.
And she helped people on the street get the help they
"She never said no," said her husband, Timothy
Binning. "She never dropped the ball . . . when folks had nowhere
else to go."
Born in Colorado and raised in the Richmond area, Mrs.
Binning received bachelor's and master's degrees in social work from
Virginia Commonwealth University. She worked for community-services boards
in Chesterfield County and Petersburg as well as the Daily Planet, a
nonprofit agency for the homeless in Richmond. Before her illness, she
worked briefly as deputy director of the National Low Income Housing
Coalition in Washington.
She married her husband on June 29, 2000, her 34th
birthday. Mrs. Binning cherished her family, her husband said yesterday.
"She was just a joy," he said.
In addition to her husband, she is survived by her
mother, Maureen Larkin Wright of Amelia; a brother, Sean Wright of
Lovingston; and six half-siblings.
A service will be held Saturday at 1 p.m. at the
Unitarian Universalist Church in Arlington County.