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Reopening 12 Beds At State Hospital Part Of Plan To Improve Mental Health Care

Thomas Fearon

The state Department of Health and Human Services announced plans to temporarily reopen 12 beds at the state’s psychiatric hospital.

The state now needs to find more than $2 million to cover the cost.

Mental health advocates say the plan to add beds at New Hampshire Hospital is an encouraging first step in addressing long waiting lists for treatment.

But Ken Norton with the state chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill says there is still much work to be done.

Norton says as long as patients needing immediate care wait for days at a time in hospital emergency rooms, the state still has a crisis on its hands.

“What’s currently happening is wrong medically, it’s wrong legally, it’s wrong ethically and it’s wrong morally.”

The plan released Tuesday isn’t meant to solve the state’s issues for the long term.

Administrator of the state’s Bureau of Behavioral Health Erik Reira says the commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services asked him to work within the existing budget.

Reopening the beds at the state hospital isn’t going to happen overnight. Reira says staffing will cost just more than $2 million The department has not yet identified where that money is going to come from.

“There’s also some capital improvements that need to be made on that unit to bring it up to licensing criteria," he said.

The department plans to seek additional funding from the state in its next two-year budget to address long-term issues.

In February, the Disabilities Rights Center filed a class action lawsuit against the state charging that it was not meeting its legal obligations for treating the mentally ill.

The suit is still pending in U.S. District Court.

Norton’s organization and several partners in the mental health community are planning a press conference on this issue for Jan. 7 in the Legislative Office Building.

“When we have numbers of people waiting for days at a time for an inpatient bed I would consider that a crisis,” Norton says. “And I would say that it’s unacceptable and that we need to work to resolve it as quickly as we can.”

Norton says it’s important people still seek help if they need it. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at (800) 273-8255.