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Keene Sentinel - Editorial: Court rightfully calls out state's detainment of mentally ill patients

This weekend, The Keene Sentinel editorial board slammed the Sununu administration’s “shameful warehousing of people experiencing mental health crises,” writing that “it’s sad commentary that it takes court rulings and federal aid for the state to adequately own up to its mental health responsibilities.” The editorial is the latest criticism of the Sununu administration’s handling of the mental health care crisis. Last week, State Senators Cindy Rosenwald, Tom Sherman, and Becky Whitley noted that the Sununu administration “had the money in 2019 to make urgent mental health investments” — but failed to do so. The Governor’s refusal to make those investments before the pandemic has now resulted in “an unprecedented crisis” in the mental health care system.

Key Excerpts:

It’s astonishing and disgraceful that it took a state Supreme Court ruling for New Hampshire to finally acknowledge it must end its shameful warehousing of people experiencing mental health crises in hospital emergency rooms. But galvanize state officials into action the court’s ruling last week finally did, and the hope is for meaningful near-term progress to end ER boarding and long-term solutions to a crisis in the state mental health system that’s been exacerbated by the pandemic


To protect patient rights, state law also requires a probable cause hearing within three days for anyone challenging their involuntary detainment. Because of the bed shortages, Gov. Chris Sununu’s administration took the mind-boggling position that the three-day clock doesn’t begin to tick until the person is actually transferred to a designated facility, leaving ER boarders in a nightmarish limbo straight out of a Kafka novel, as one of the Supreme Court justices hearing the case observed. In that case, the unnamed plaintiff was detained 20 days in an ER before being transferred to the state-run New Hampshire Hospital. The probable cause hearing she was finally granted following her transfer from the ER resulted in her discharge.

In its May 11 decision, the Supreme Court resoundingly rejected the state’s argument — which boiled down to “no bed, no rights” — and unanimously ruled the three-day clock for a probable cause hearing starts when a patient’s involuntary detainment begins, whether or not in an ER. The ruling should have come as no surprise to the state. Over a year ago, the federal District Court in Concord said much the same in a separate class-action case challenging the state’s ER boarding practice. Given that the number of adults and children being ER-boarded has gone up significantly during the pandemic — at times it’s been as high as 80 adults and children — it’s unfathomable that the Sununu administration continued to assert its untenable twilight zone position rather than focus on solving the problem.

[...] Given the pressing needs of those being poorly served by the state’s mental health system, funding from any source is welcome. But it’s sad commentary that it takes court rulings and federal aid for the state to adequately own up to its mental health responsibilities. Hardly the New Hampshire advantage.

Read the entire editorial at The Keene Sentinel.


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