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Gov. Sununu signs legislation regarding mental health services and DCYF, surrounded by supporters at the offices of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Concord. (Courtesy)

Sununu signs bill to invest in mental health, reform DCYF


CONCORD – Gov. Chris Sununu signed House Bill 400 into law on Wednesday, setting the stage for additional mental health beds and reforms to child protective services.

“Dealing with these two critical issues are not options. They are absolute necessities that our state must address immediately or lives will continue to be endangered,” he said at a ceremonial signing, surrounded by supporters of the bill at the National Alliance on Mental Illness Concord office.

HB 400 became the legislative vehicle to address the shortage of mental health beds that has anywhere from 30 to 50 patients each week waiting in hospital emergency rooms for admission to the state psychiatric hospital or a similar facility.

Funding for the initiative is contained in the budget bill now under review in the state Legislature.

HB400 requires the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a comprehensive 10-year plan for the mental health system, including a comparison of existing needs with existing services.

It also requires DHHS to develop a plan to ensure individuals subject to involuntary admission while held in emergency rooms are not denied their Constitutional rights to due process, and directs the commissioner to find new residential treatment options for youth, including 24 juveniles now at New Hampshire Hospital.

Sununu urged lawmakers to support funding for the new mental health beds and a new mental health mobile crisis unit.

“As the House and Senate work on the budget, it is critical that these services be addressed and prioritized,” he said. “While I am pleased that we have made progress, we are far from done.”

As regards DCYF, the law creates a new category for child abuse investigations between “founded” and “unfounded,” which will allow DCYF assessment workers to classify some cases as “unfounded but with reasonable concern.”

The reports will be kept for up to seven years, compared to the current practice of retaining “unfounded” reports for three years.

Kenneth Norton, executive director of NAMI-NH, commended the many lawmakers and volunteers whose work contributed to successful passage of the legislation.

“But the catalyst that brought all this together was the leadership of Gov. Sununu,” Norton said. “He listened intently, reviewed some data related to emergency department boarding specifically and the mental health system in general, asked thoughtful questions and then took action.”

dsolomon@unionleader.com