CONCORD, N.H. — The New Hampshire Senate gave preliminary approval Thursday to a plan to significantly increase the number of psychiatric treatment beds in the state.
As the number of treatment beds has dropped in 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. In March, an average of 46 adults and four children were waiting in emergency rooms each day.
“This is deplorable embarrassing and heart breaking that we are not taking care of our own,” said Sen. Dan Feltes, reading from an email he received from a constituent who was waiting for two days in an emergency room with a family member.
“I agree,” said Feltes, a Concord Democrat.
In a unanimous vote, the Senate sent to its Finance Committee a bill that would require the state to contract with private hospitals and nonprofit facilities to set up 68 new beds. Twenty would be at “designated receiving facilities” 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. Currently, there are 168 beds at the state psychiatric hospital and 46 at designated receiving facilities.
The mental health crisis has been building for years and has been further complicated by the state’s opioid epidemic, said Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro. Fixing the problems will take time, he said.
“This should be seen as a first step and not a last step. We didn’t get into mental health crisis we have now overnight,” he said. “We’re not going to solve it with this piece of legislation.”
The state had been working to improve its mental health services since settling a federal lawsuit over inadequate care in late 2013. The plan sent to the Senate Finance Committee has the backing of state health officials and Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.