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Gov. Sununu Says Progress Being Made in State's ER Boarding Crisis

Gov. Chris Sununu is touting new progress in the state’s efforts to end the waitlist for patients to enter the state psychiatric hospital.

The backlog at New Hampshire Hospital, which can force patients in mental health crisis to be held in emergency rooms across the state for days or even weeks a time, has persisted for years and has become a symbol of a wider shortage of mental health treatment options in New Hampshire.

On Wednesday, Sununu’s office released new data showing patients are waiting for entry into New Hampshire Hospital or other so-called "designated receiving facilities" for shorter periods than they were in 2017.

The data shows a decline in the average wait-time for patients from 6.2 days to 3.8 days. It also shows a decline in the total average number of days patients waited in hospital emergency departments, from 1,500 total boarding days in September 2017, to 755 days in November 2019.

In a written statement, Sununu said, “rebuilding our mental health system has been a priority since day one and I am pleased to have data showing that our efforts are paying off.”

Steve Ahnen, president of the New Hampshire Hospital Association, praised efforts to address this issue, but said much remains to be done.

“We have seen some improvement in the amount of time patients in an acute psychiatric crisis are waiting in hospital emergency departments,” said Ahnen. “But there are still too many patients waiting to get the specialized care that they need.  In fact, there were forty-three patients on the wait list today.”

The current practice of forcing mental health patients to wait in emergency departments before being transferred to New Hampshire Hospital is the subject of a federal lawsuit against the state that includes ACLU-NH and the New Hampshire Hospital Association. The lawsuit alleges patients’ civil rights are violated by being held against their will for long periods without adequate due process. The lawsuit also raises concerns about the conditions that patients are held in at emergency departments.

"One person on the waitlist is too many," said ACLU-NH legal director Gilles Bissonnette. "We will continue our lawsuit until not a single person is confined in a hospital emergency room without due process."

Sununu’s office also released data from New Hampshire Hospital showing a 48 percent decline in the number of staff injuries since 2018. The reduction has resulted in a savings of more than $350,000 in workers compensation claims, according to the governor’s office.

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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