DHHS pushes back after Hospital Association joins suit over psychiatric care

Monitor staff
Published: 1/8/2019 3:59:11 PM

Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers criticized the New Hampshire Hospital Association for joining a lawsuit accusing the state of failing to provide timely care to psychiatric patients by keeping them in emergency rooms.

“At a time when the state is dedicating itself to rebuilding its mental health system, including significant investments and a new 10-Year Mental Health Plan, it’s disappointing to see hospitals use a lawsuit to walk away from the table, not be part of the solution, and not provide responsible care and services sufficient to meet the needs of the populations they serve,” Meyers said in a statement.

The state psychiatric hospital faces a shortage of available beds, forcing patients seeking psychiatric care to wait in emergency rooms for spots to open up, sometimes for weeks.

State law requires psychiatric patients who are involuntarily committed to receive probable cause hearings within three days of admission. But under the current system, that process does not start until the patient is committed to an inpatient facility.

In its class-action lawsuit, the New Hampshire’s ACLU has called the system a violation of the 14th Amendment right to due process, urging state officials to start the three-day clock when the patient enters the emergency room.

The Hospital Association says the practice of holding psychiatric patients in the emergency rooms is itself a violation of state law, whatever the wait time.

Meyers said the governor and leading lawmakers have already pledged to address the needs of the state’s mental health system this legislative session and a lawsuit is the wrong way to go about it.

“Instead, the hospitals seek to broaden the scope of the ACLU’s lawsuit, shift important state policy decisions to federal court, and avoid any potential financial implications to themselves in the process,” Meyers said. “The approach is unnecessary and counterproductive.”

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