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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Plan would aid those with mental health issues

Waiting in emergency rooms isn’t where a person suffering a mental health crisis should be.

A plan released by the state last week would spend more than $10 million to get those people help more quickly. ...

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Waiting in emergency rooms isn’t where a person suffering a mental health crisis should be.

A plan released by the state last week would spend more than $10 million to get those people help more quickly.

The plan would reopen 12 beds at New Hampshire Hospital, revamp the hospital’s discharge policies so patients have more support after they leave, increase the number of emergency psychiatric beds at community-run agencies and create seven more rapid-reaction crisis teams.

“There’s an immediate need right now with people in emergency rooms across the state waiting for a bed in a hospital,” said Eric Riera, head of the state Division of Behavioral Health. “Really, we’re looking to accelerate a number of new programs in the community so people won’t have to get to a point that they go to an emergency room.”

Budget reductions have drastically reduced the number of beds available at New Hampshire Hospital and in psychiatric wards at other hospitals in the state. Since 2009, 60 beds at New Hampshire Hospital have been closed, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Last year, Southern New Hampshire Medical Center in Nashua closed its behavioral health unit. Those 30 inpatient beds made up more than 60 percent of the psychiatric beds in Nashua.

The changes come while a class-action lawsuit filed against DHHS over its treatment of mentally ill people –
specifically, how often they’re institutionalized –
makes its way through the court system.

The suit, filed by the U.S. Department of Justice and Disabilities Rights Center, accuses the state of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by too often sending mentally ill people to New Hampshire Hospital, a state-run psychiatric facility, and the Glencliff Home, a state nursing home for elderly people with mental illness, instead of treating them in the least restrictive setting, their own community.

A DOJ report issued in April 2011 said that more people are institutionalized in New Hampshire because of a lack of community supports. That report called the state’s system “broken” and “failing.”

New Hampshire Hospital has an admission rate 40 percent higher than the national average, and its readmission rate is nearly double the national average.

The plan released last week includes a number of immediate improvements in addition to opening the dozen beds at New Hampshire Hospital, including better tracking of patients seeking admittance and more consultations by psychiatric staff to local emergency room doctors.

The rest of the plan will take longer to realize and depends on DHHS budget request being approved by the new Legislature, Riera said.

That portion of the plan includes building the capacity of community agencies such as the Greater Nashua Mental Health Center to treat patients locally, expanding the number of inpatient beds those agencies have by 400, doubling the size of the state’s Housing Bridge Subsidy program to 210 people by 2016 and adding seven Assertive Community Treatment Teams, bringing the total number of such teams to 17.

Overall, the improvements will cost more than $10 million, Riera said.

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or jcote@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Cote on Twitter (@Telegraph_JoeC).