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Hospitals Move To Intervene In ACLU Suit Against N.H. Over ER Boarding

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The New Hampshire Hospital Association has moved to intervene in a lawsuit against the state brought by the ACLU-NH.

The lawsuit addresses the current practice of emergency room boarding, where patients who are involuntarily committed for acute psychiatric treatment are sometimes held for weeks in emergency rooms without a probable cause hearing.

Under state law, when someone in a mental health crisis is involuntarily committed, the state is supposed to transfer them to a Designated Receiving Facility, like New Hampshire Hospital, and then provide them with a probable cause hearing before a judge within three days.

But because of a shortage of mental health beds in New Hampshire, patients are often held - sometimes against their will - in hospital emergency rooms with no hearing for well beyond three days until a bed opens up.

In November, the ACLU-NH filed suit against the state, claiming the delay violates patients constitutional rights to due process.

Now, the New Hampshire Hospital Association is joining the suit, arguing that the practice also deprives patients of the proper care they should be recieving while they are instead boarded in emergency rooms.

But while the NHHA and ACLU agree that the practice should end, they don't entirely agree on how.

In its complaint, the ACLU proposed having videoconferenced hearings for patients being held in ERs. Steve Ahnen, president of the NHHA, argues that would just encourage emergency room boarding to continue.

“A hospital emergency room is not the place for someone in an acute psychiatric crisis to get the treatment and services that they need. And so again, the answer is to get patients to the designated recieving facilities so that they can get the care and the due process that they need, and deserve, and are entitled to under state law."

No hearings have yet been scheduled in the case.

Jason Moon is a senior reporter and producer on the Document team. He has created longform narrative podcast series on topics ranging from unsolved murders, to presidential elections, to secret lists of police officers.

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