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Hampton Lawmaker Seeks to Reform N.H.'s Secure Psychiatric Unit

Paige Sutherland/NHPR

A New Hampshire lawmaker next session will continue to try improve a decades old state policy that allows people with severe mental illness to be treated on the grounds of the state prison.

Rep. Renny Cushing of Hampton has worked on this unsuccessfully for years. He wants to get the state to build a Secure Psychiatric Hospital outside the prison walls. But his plan would cost about $13 million. Many lawmakers have been unwilling to sign off on that.

Since 1986, people with a mental illness who are considered a harm to themselves or others can be moved to the Secure Psychiatric Unit. Some lawmakers like Cushing have criticized the quality of care at the facility.

So next session, Cushing is asking that the Department of Corrections make the existing unit an accredited psychiatric hospital.

“We need to stop the criminalization of people with severe mental illness, which is what the current situation does," he said.

But Rep. John Fothergill said when it comes to mental health reform in the state – this is not the place to start.

“The situation could be improved but it’s certainly not top of the things we need to improve on the mental health system of our state. That’s kind of the bottom line," he said.

New Hampshire continues to have a long waitlist for those seeking psychiatric care at the state hospital – at times, patients have had to wait months for a bed.

Under Cushing's measure, the Department Of Corrections would have two years to get the accreditation.

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