NH hospitals, state health department resolve lawsuit over ‘ER boarding’ of psychiatric patients

By HOLLY RAMER

Associated Press

Published: 07-13-2023 4:20 PM

New Hampshire hospitals and state health officials said Wednesday they will work together to solve the state’s longstanding problem of holding psychiatric patients in hospital emergency rooms, a move that ends years of litigation.

A federal judge who had declared the practice unconstitutional in February followed up in May with an order giving the state one year to develop a system under which people would be held for no more than six hours before being transferred to another facility for treatment.

On Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services said it would waive its right to appeal the order, while the hospitals agreed to drop similar lawsuits in state and federal court.

Steve Ahnen, president of the New Hampshire Hospital Association, said hospitals and the state showed they can work together during the coronavirus pandemic, and that he looks forward to further cooperation.

“This case has always been about ensuring patients suffering from an acute psychiatric crisis are able to receive the care they need by immediately being transferred to a health care facility specially designed for that purpose,” he said.

New Hampshire has long struggled with a mental health system that advocates say is overburdened at every stage, from the initiation of treatment to reentry into the community. Emergency room boarding, with people in crisis waiting days or weeks for treatment because of a shortage of inpatient beds, has become a flashpoint and focus of multiple lawsuits.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Teachers resist plan to combine Mill Brook, Broken Ground principals
NH doctor works to rebuild online reputation after TikTok spreads false news
Stacy Wakefield dies less than 5 months after her husband, Tim Wakefield
One last plea to save historic home: Norris House on Main Street due to be torn down soon
Free house for grabs – historic home is all yours, if you can move it
High schools: MV boys win on Simonds buzzer-beating 3 in OT, Pembroke also advances in D-II

Judge Landya McCafferty’s rulings in February and May came in a lawsuit filed in 2018 by patients who argued they were involuntarily held in emergency rooms without opportunity to contest their detentions. She agreed with a group of hospitals that joined the lawsuit, saying the state was violating the rights of hospitals by seizing their property.

On Tuesday, there were 45 adults and four children boarding in New Hampshire emergency departments waiting for inpatient psychiatric beds, according to the New Hampshire chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

State health Commissioner Lori Weaver said she is committed to eliminating those waiting lists and urged all stakeholders to act with “urgency, unity and compassion.”

“We will achieve this important milestone by working with our partners throughout the health care system to increase access to mental health services for all residents,” she said in a statement.

Gilles Bissonnette, legal director of the ACLU of New Hampshire, said his organization will be watching closely as changes are made over the next year. The group plans to continue its lawsuit related to probable cause hearings for those who are involuntarily detained

]]>