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State Responds to N.H. ACLU Suit Over ER Boarding of Mental Health Patients


State officials say they are working to address the issues behind a recent lawsuit filed by the New Hampshire ACLU.

The federal suit alleges that mental health patients in New Hampshire are routinely denied their constitutional rights by being detained in emergency rooms without a hearing, what is called ER boarding.

In a statement, N.H. Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey A. Meyers says the state's mental health system has come a long way over the last few years.

He notes the new spending recently authorized by lawmakers, and that new beds for mental health patients have opened up as a result.

Meyers says the number of mental health patients being held in emergency rooms while awaiting a bed at New Hampshire Hospital has dropped from a high of about 70 last year to about 40 today. 

On the issue of patients being detained without a hearing, Meyers says there was a plan put forward by the state last year to provide hearings by videoconference.

While that plan fell apart, Meyers say he will "continue to work with the state's hospitals to find a path forward." 

The ACLU's complaint, which was filed Saturday, cites an anonymous 26 year-old plaintiff  who was admitted to Southern New Hampshire Medical Center in Nashua last week following an attempted suicide.

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

Jason Moon is a senior reporter and producer on the Document team. He has created longform narrative podcast series on topics ranging from unsolved murders, to presidential elections, to secret lists of police officers.
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