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N.H. Community Mental Health Centers Expand Emergency Services

Lynn Friedman

New Hampshire’s 10 community mental health centers continue to move forward with plans to enlarge emergency services, following the approval of increased funding at this week’s Executive Council meeting. 

Maggie Pritchard, the CEO of the Lakes Region Community Mental Health Center, says the opportunity to grow is incredibly exciting and daunting. 

It’s daunting because the center has struggled to fill open positions, like others in the state. Right now, the Lakes Region center has just under 30 positions open, and most are for clinical staff, according to Pritchard.

Under the new contract, the organization will create six new transitional beds by next summer. Right now, Pritchard says that process involves researching potential locations, property availability and partnerships to start work.

Pritchard hopes these new transitional beds at the state's mental health centers will reduce wait times for inpatient beds at hospitals.

Another component of the contracts are mobile crisis units, which most of the state’s mental health centers do not currently have. 

Northern Human Services, the community mental health center that serves the North Country, expected funding for the unit, and has been planning to implement one all year.

Kassie Eafrati, director of the regional emergency services team with the center, says it’s not as simple as just copying what their colleagues in the southern part of the state are already doing, because the area is vast. She says it can take over three hours to transport someone, in addition to managing all the different towns and first responders with whom they work.   

Eafrati says the team has been looking at models in more rural parts of the country, like Alaska, to see what's working there.

Like Pritchard, Eafrati says staffing will be the biggest challenge. She says it can be especially difficult to hire for emergency work like the mobile unit. 

“Not a lot of clinicians or social workers go into the work to strictly do emergency services,” she says. “And so in the mobile crisis also, it takes up doctor time and bachelor level staff and peer support. So it's not just the clinical level.”

Right now, the center is conducting the second round of interviews for the future unit’s director.

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