Our Turn: Much work required to fix state’s mental health system

  • New Hampshire Attorney General Joseph Foster AP

Published: 8/13/2016 12:10:02 AM

In February of this year, Beatrice Coulter wrote a “My Turn” piece about the state’s practice of placing non-adjudicated civilly committed individuals in the Secure Psychiatric Unit at the State Prison for Men in Concord (Monitor Forum, Feb. 27).

Since that time much has been written about the mental health crisis in New Hampshire.

In addition to failed leadership and fiscal starvation, the system is also plagued with competing agendas, political cronyism and devastating quality failures. In recent weeks, there have been several events that have revealed much.

The most recent event is the filing of a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division by the Treatment Advocacy Center about SPU.

Another event is the recent suicide of a New Hampshire Hospital patient.

Both of these events should give one pause. This in addition to the ongoing boarding in emergency rooms of individuals awaiting treatment across the state. But there is more.

The citizens of New Hampshire recently had a front-row seat to the acrimony between Dartmouth-Hitchcock and the clinicians at New Hampshire Hospital. Such rancor and their subsequent departure will surely impact the delivery of quality care.

In another recent event, memos were released in the Eric Largy case showing the influence of Attorney General Joe Foster over the recommendations of the Administrative Review Committee at New Hampshire Hospital.

The ARC is a clinical body that does risk assessments. These memos clearly demonstrated the involvement of New Hampshire Hospital CEO Robert MacLeod, as clinicians amended their initial recommendation to satisfy the mandate of Foster.

This was done to impact a legal proceeding. It appears a second complaint to the U.S. Department of Justice may be in order. Nothing is working as it should be. Nothing.

One of the allegations in the DOJ SPU complaint is that the state may not have been forthcoming about the utilization of SPU for civilly committed individuals when the Amanda D. versus Hassan lawsuit was filed several years ago.

The unconstitutional placement of civilly committed individuals in SPU has gone on for years – long before articles about a failed mental health system became a daily part of local publications.

The political lackeys, cronies and minions charged with sustaining the “Potemkin Village” around these failures needs to be dismantled.

The system has become corrupt under the weight of protecting its failures. The seeds for the culture we are currently experiencing were sown long ago.

The DOJ can hopefully come in and begin to clean up SPU. But the DOJ cannot litigate and require in its settlement ethics, integrity and compassion.

That will be the real challenge to the restoration of the mental health system in New Hampshire.

(Beatrice Coulter and Wanda Duryea are the founders of Advocates for Ethical Mental Health Treatment.)

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