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Lawsuit Alleging Lack of Due Process for N.H. Mental Health Patients Moves Forward

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Paige Sutherland/NHPR
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A judge sided with plaintiffs Thursday in a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by the ACLU-NH against the state of New Hampshire.

The case centers on the question of whether the state is obligated to provide people who have been involuntarily admitted for psychiatric care the opportunity to argue for their release while they wait in emergency departments for a psychiatric bed to become available.

Some patients in New Hampshire have been held against their will for weeks at an ER without an opportunity to argue for their release.

Held For 20 Days: How N.H.'s Shortage Of Mental Health Beds Erodes Patients' Rights

Lawyers for the Department of Health and Human Services argued that an existing requirement in state law that a hearing be held within three days does not begin until the patient reaches a state psychiatric facility.

In his ruling Thursday, federal Judge Joseph DiClerico rejected that interpretation. He denied the state's motion to dismiss the case and said the state has a clear duty to provide a hearing within three days -- even if the patient is still waiting in an ER.

Arguments Heard In Lawsuit Alleging Lack of Due Process for N.H. Mental Health Patients

“Irrespective of the facilities problem, the Commissioner has a duty mandated by statute to provide for probable cause hearings within three days of when an IEA [involuntary emergency admission] certificate is completed,” wrote DiClerico.

Nearly two dozen hospitals in New Hampshire are also involved as intervenors in the lawsuit.

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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