Riverbend to set up 24/7 mental health psychiatric facility in Concord

  • Members of the Executive Council meet inside the State House on Wednesday. ETHAN DeWITT / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 1/9/2019 6:28:32 PM

Concord will host the state’s first 24-hour mental health treatment center, after the Executive Council greenlit a $4.4 million contract that officials say could help ease a years-long backlog of psychiatric patients in emergency departments.

The new contract with Riverbend Community Mental Health, approved by the council on Wednesday, will allow the mental health provider to set up a round-the-clock destination for those in mental or behavioral health crises to get treatment.

Called the Behavioral Health Crisis Treatment Center, the facility “will fill an existing gap in the behavioral health treatment and service continuum,” according to a presentation document by Department of Health and Human Services Jeff Meyers, which requested the contract.

The new center, set to open by May, will be housed in one of Riverbend’s existing downtown buildings, at 40 Pleasant St.

Peter Evers, Riverbend’s CEO, hailed the new center as a chance for Concord to get ahead of the curve on mental health treatment.

“It is a place where people can walk in and know that this is a 24-hour facility where they can get care, and it’s also a place where we can work to get folks out of the emergency room, he said Wednesday.

Under the contract, the Riverbend facility will be open to those 18 and older facing a mental health crisis, offering stabilization and de-escalation services at all hours of the day. The center will be available to those walking in or those diverted from law enforcement, mobile response units and hospitals, and will also cater to those with substance use disorder, the contract says.

Within 24 hours of seeking treatment, the facility will hand the patient off to community providers, from temporary beds to long-term residential care, the contract stipulates.

The approved contract comes as New Hampshire continues to struggle to find beds and providers to adequately treat its behavioral health patients, who are kept in emergency departments for days and sometimes weeks.

Across the state, around 40 adults were recently waiting for beds in emergency departments, according to NAMI New Hampshire, the mental health support and advocacy organization, in a social media post Tuesday. Just under a dozen of those patients were recently housed at Concord Hospital, Evers said Wednesday.

To many stakeholders, it’s an untenable situation; on Monday, the New Hampshire Hospital Association joined a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union calling the emergency room boarding unconstitutional and urging the state to find alternatives.

Evers and Meyers said a permanent facility would open a new avenue to ease the burden on hospitals. Presently, the Concord Hospital emergency department takes in about 2,100 patients with behavioral health crises, according to Evers, who also serves as the hospital’s vice president for behavioral health. The new center, if successful, could address about 60 percent of those patients, Evers said.

“Obviously we can’t tell people not to go to the ED, but we can persuade them there are better alternatives,” Evers said, referring to the emergency department. “So really it’s the middle ground between a mobile crisis intervention and people’s need to go to the emergency room.”

The center, which Evers said would require another 35 employees, is expected to collaborate with local fire and police departments to take in patients, as well as the hospitals themselves. And the money would allow for Riverbend to house a staffer in the Concord Hospital emergency department whose mission is to divert patients to the center, according to the contract.

Meyers said the facility would make a difference.

“I don’t know what the numbers are going to be for this yet but we think it’s going to have a significant impact,” he said Wednesday.

The money wasn’t originally intended for a permanent facility. Back when the Legislature authorized it, under Senate Bill 590, the funds were meant for mobile crisis response units to bring crisis treatment to individuals’ homes.

But a request for bidders by the Department of Health and Human Services came up empty-handed, and the funds were repurposed to create a physical walk-in location.

Still, Meyers and Evers pointed to Riverbend’s existing team of mobile crisis units, and said the new facility would integrate them.

“This is going to be a stationary facility, but it will work hand-in-hand with mobile crisis teams,” Meyers said. “So instead of bringing somebody to the (emergency department), they can bring somebody to this stationary center.”

For those in crisis, the facility could offer a whole new response, Evers said.

“Often times people don’t want to stick around in their homes,” he said. “The alternative is the ED. Now we’ve created this other alternative.”

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, at (603) 369-3307, or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)

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