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Bill aims to free up mental health beds, end ER waits by increasing housing

In July, the state announced it would agree to a federal court order to cease boarding mental health patients in emergency rooms due to a shortage of treatment beds.
Dave Cummings
/
New Hampshire Bulletin
In July, the state announced it would agree to a federal court order to cease boarding mental health patients in emergency rooms due to a shortage of treatment beds.

A bill advocates say could reduce, even eliminate, emergency room waits for psychiatric beds cleared its first hurdle Wednesday. Senate Bill 410 would allot $3 million to transitional, supportive housing for people who no longer need in-patient behavioral health treatment but are not ready to live independently.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to recommend the full Senate pass it. Expanding transitional housing is among the Department of Health and Human Services’ “Mission Zero” initiatives announced in September to address the state’s mental health crisis and eliminate long emergency room waits.

Mental health advocates estimate there are 40 to 50 people who could be discharged from New Hampshire Hospital if there was sufficient transitional housing. That would open more than enough beds to accommodate the 23 adults in mental health crisis waiting Tuesdayfor in-patient treatment, 17 of them in emergency rooms.

The high cost of transitional housing has been a barrier because Medicaid does not cover the housing costs and there has been little state support, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Becky Whitley, a Hopkinton Democrat, told the committee during a public hearing.

Lisa Madden, president and CEO of Riverbend Community Mental Health, said her agency loses $250,000 annually on one residence that supports 10 people and between $260,000 and $270,000 on a second site.

Under Whitley’s bill, the state’s community mental health centers could receive a one-time payment of up to $25,000 per transitional housing bed. The legislation would also provide the Department of Health and Human Services $1.5 million to help community mental health centers to recover some of their operating costs.

The pandemic increased demand on the state’s already oversubscribed mental health services. A pair of court cases and the infusion of millions in federal pandemic aid spurred the state to step up efforts to address shortage of care.

In one case, the state Supreme Court ruled in 2021 that the state was violating individuals’ due process rights by holding them in emergency rooms for extended stays and denying them a timely opportunity to challenge their hold.

Then, in July, the state announcedit would agree to a federal court order to cease boarding mental health patients in emergency rooms due to a shortage of treatment beds. The ACLU of New Hampshire and the state’s hospitals had challenged the practice in a federal lawsuit.

Two months after it resolved that case, the Department of Health and Human Services announced its “Mission Zero” initiative. A significant piece of that plan involves expanding housing for people leaving inpatient treatment.

New Hampshire Bulletin is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Hampshire Bulletin maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Dana Wormald for questions: info@newhampshirebulletin.com. Follow New Hampshire Bulletin on Facebook and Twitter.

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