ACLU Sues N.H. Over Emergency Room Boarding Of Mental Health Patients

Nov 13, 2018

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The New Hampshire ACLU has filed a federal class action lawsuit against the state of New Hampshire over a practice called emergency room boarding.

The anonymous 26 year-old plaintiff in the ACLU’s suit was admitted to Southern New Hampshire Medical Center in Nashua last week following an attempted suicide. (Update: Jeffrey Meyers, commissioner of Health and Human Services, responds to the complaint's allegations.)

According to the complaint, filed Saturday, hospital staff judged that the plaintiff posed a likely danger to himself or others and began holding him against his will in the emergency room.

Under state law the plaintiff then should have been admitted to what's known as a Designated Receiving Facility like New Hampshire Hospital, then received a hearing before a judge within three days.

But the deadline for that hearing came and went, in part because there's a lengthy wait-list at Designated Receiving Facilities in the state right now. So instead, the hospital detained the plaintiff without a hearing and without legal counsel, according to the ACLU's complaint.

Gilles Bissonnette with the ACLU says that amounts to a violation of the plaintiff's constitutional right to due process.

“When individuals are being detained, they should have the ability to contest their detention. I mean there’s nothing more sacred than that right to be able to make an argument before a judge that you shouldn't be held against your will.”

As of October 31st, there were more than 40 adults in the state waiting to be admitted to New Hampshire Hospital, according to data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. This class-action lawsuit in federal court seeks relief for all patients in this situation.

UPDATE: Jeffrey Meyer, commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, responded to the allegations in the ACLU complaint, saying the state is making efforts to address the issues.