Senate panel considers plan to add mental health beds

  • A bedroom inside New Hampshire Hospital’s new mental health crisis unit is seen in Concord on Tuesday, July 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor file

Associated Press
Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Supporters of a plan to significantly increase the number of psychiatric treatment beds in the state called it a giant leap forward in addressing a growing crisis.

As the number of mental health treatment beds has dropped over the last decade due to budget cuts, a workforce shortage and other factors, the number of people waiting, sometimes in emergency room corridors, for beds at the state psychiatric hospital has increased. On Tuesday, that number was 19 adults and two children, but in March, the daily average was 46 adults and four children, said Ken Norton, executive director of the New Hampshire chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“In a word, I would say it’s dehumanizing, for the individuals who go through that as well as for their families and for the staff that are forced into situations where they’re not able to provide effective treatment,” he said. “It’s wrong medically, it’s wrong legally, it’s wrong ethically, it’s wrong morally, it’s wrong economically and it’s time we move forward to do something about it.”

The plan before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday would require the state to contract with private hospitals and nonprofit facilities to set up 68 new beds. Twenty of them would be for those subject to involuntary admission, 40 would be community-based beds to help people transition from New Hampshire Hospital and eight would be peer respite beds for those caring for patients.

Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, estimated the total cost at $9.2 million. The plan has the backing of state health officials and Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who toured the Concord Hospital emergency department last week.

“They’re not options – what we have before us today are mandates,” Sununu told the Senate committee on Tuesday. “Being able to go to the front lines ... and seeing the severity of this issue has been eye-opening.”

Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers said the transitional beds included in the plan are particularly important because at any given time there are more than a dozen long-term patients at New Hampshire Hospital who could be discharged but lack housing and the supportive services.

While supportive of the plan, Meyers said capacity at the state hospital also should be increased.

The department will be seeking funding to draw up plans for a separate facility for children, who are now treated in units that were designed for adults. Moving the children to a stand-alone facility would free up 24 adult beds.

“We are built out at New Hampshire Hospital,” Meyers said. “There is no other space that could be used for inpatient treatment.”

The state had been working to improve its mental health services since settling a federal lawsuit over inadequate care in late 2013.