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Sununu Tells Lawmakers Fixing State's Mental Health System not an Option - a Mandate

Paige Sutherland/NHPR
Gov. Chris Sununu testifies in support of a measure to address the state's lack of mental health services.

New Hampshire lawmakers are trying to push through a last-minute effort this session to address the state’s ongoing shortage of treatment for those battling severe mental illness.

The proposal has the strong support of Governor Chris Sununu. So much so, that at its public hearing Tuesday, Sununu advocated for the measure himself, telling lawmakers that providing these additional services was "not a option but a mandate.”

“To be blunt about it, these problems could have and should have been addressed long ago and I can’t speak for previous administrations but I can tell you in my first 100 days here it has come to stark light to me just how in disarray our mental health system truly is,” Sununu told the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

On average 45 people a day in New Hampshire are waiting for inpatient psychiatric care. The measure calls for20 new beds for those with severe mental illness as well as 40 new transitional beds in the community and an additional mobile crisis unit.

"As I've said before it's wrong medically, it's wrong legally, it's wrong ethically, it's wrong morally and it's wrong economically. And it's time we move forward to do something about it," said Ken Norton of NAMI NH.

But in a fiscally conservative state, passing these initiatives tends to come down to money. And currently, the bill does not have an exact dollar amount on how much these new services would cost.

When asked about the financials, Sununu told committee members, "Dollars cannot get in the way of quality services and quality outcomes in mental health."

Ken Norton, the Executive Director of New Hampshire’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, says addressing the state's lack of care is long overdue.

“As I’ve said before, it's wrong medically, it’s wrong legally, it’s wrong ethically, it’s wrong morally and it’s wrong economically. And it’s time we move forward to do something about it,” said Norton, who helped craft this legislation.

Those who also spoke in favor of the bill included the state's Health and Human Services Commissioner as well as the President of the New Hampshire Hospital Association. 

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