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Supported money to open mental health crisis unit at NHH.

Although New Hampshire is one of the healthiest states in the nation, we face high insurance rates, mental health care challenges and many of our friends and neighbors are grieving over loved ones addicted to heroin and opioid drugs.

Tackling these challenges and ensuring that health care is accessible and affordable for all families and individuals in New Hampshire has been a top priority in my first term serving in the New Hampshire Senate.

The Granite State has been hit hard by the opioid and heroin crisis, having a truly devastating effect on our communities. However, we have committed to increasing funding and resources for addiction prevention, treatment and recovery, while enhancing law enforcement’s ability to eradicate drugs from the streets.

We expanded prevention efforts by including more age-appropriate education in our schools, upgrading and expanding the use of the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program while improving access to treatment by removing burdensome prior authorization requirements.

In addition, we increased funding by 75 percent for peer-to-peer recovery programs and strengthened penalties for fentanyl possession and distribution while providing grants to local law enforcement to partner with state police in an effort to eliminate drug dealers from our streets.

We also created a statewide drug court grant program so more communities will be able to help addicts and low-level criminal offenders break the cycle of recidivism by allowing them to seek treatment in lieu of jail time. We’ve seen their success in Nashua with the introduction of a Drug Court system, and I am proud to have supported expanding drug courts statewide.

While we devoted much time and energy to making changes to address the heroin and opioid crisis, we didn’t get here overnight. There is much more work to be done.

This session, the Legislature reauthorized the New Hampshire Health Protection Plan (Medicaid expansion), which I did not support. While I believe everyone should have access to affordable health insurance, I believe there should be a work requirement in order to receive such coverage.

The NHHPP reauthorization included a work requirement that will only take effect with the approval of the federal government, which is in no way guaranteed to happen. In addition, with the uncertainty associated with long-term federal funding, and given our nation’s $19 trillion debt, I am concerned that New Hampshire taxpayers will end up with an unaffordable bill.

I supported providing funds to quickly open the 10-bed mental health crisis unit at New Hampshire Hospital to address the specific needs of mental health patients that are not served in emergency rooms. However, the facility didn’t open until more than a year after its scheduled date. This is simply unacceptable.

I also supported increased funding to eliminate the Developmental Disabilities Waiting list, yet we have not seen funds appropriately deployed. Rather than eliminating the waiting list, it has held at 151 individuals and families who are waiting to receive services critical to ensuring they have a high quality of life.

This is an issue of human dignity, and I will continue to fight for an explanation for why New Hampshire residents are still waiting for these services.

Despite the Legislature’s swift action to address these issues, funds are still being mismanaged by within the executive branch, causing major delays in getting our residents the care and support services they deserve.

In 2014, the state of New Hampshire entered into a mental health settlement, committing to enhancing and strengthening our mental health care networks in the state. While we have made improvements in some areas, the Department of Health and Human Services remains woefully behind in setting up the Assertive Community Treatment Teams.

In a recent report issued on the status of the settlement, it stated, "the time for patience on these issues is over." I couldn’t agree more and am ready to continue fighting for my constituents in order to improve the delivery of care for the mentally ill, ensuring there is effective oversight for the Department of Health and Human Services, and providing the resources to build on the mental health care infrastructure in this state.

The Republican-led Legislature has made true progress in improving available health care for Granite Staters, and I will continue to work to ensure the needs of New Hampshire’s residents are met in years to come.

Kevin Avard, R-Nashua, is a candidate for the District 12 seat in the New Hampshire Senate, representing the communities of Brookline, Greenville, Hollis, Mason, New Ipswich, Rindge, and Wards 1, 2, and 5 in Nashua.