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NH officials defend mental health policies

New Hampshire officials on Tuesday issued a sharp retort to a 6-month-old critique of the state's mental health system, which found New Hampshire falling short of requirements under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney and Health and Human Services Commissioner Nicholas Toumpas faulted the U.S Justice Department's Civil Rights Division for spending only two days in New Hampshire to investigate the system and warping the findings of a state 10-year plan to make its conclusions.

The state is in the third year of the plan, Delaney said.

'It is disappointing that, at a time when this State and this nation are facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, your office has taken this action,' Delaney and Toumpas wrote in a Dec. 6 letter to Thomas E. Perez, the assistant U.S. attorney general who overseas the Civil Rights Division.

The two said they do not believe that federal law requires the state to implement measures demanded by the Civil Rights Division. And they warned that threatened federal litigation would waste state and federal dollars better spent on services.

In April, federal officials said the state system is broken, failing and in a crisis. At the time, the New Hampshire Union Leader said local care for the mentally ill had declined, and the lack of services was forcing people into institutions that do not need to be there.

Delaney on Tuesday said state officials had been meeting with federal officials for six months. Discussions had reached a point where he decided it was time to submit a formal response to the April report, he said.

Delaney said the federal findings claim the state relies too heavily on institutionalization. But between the Glencliff Home psychiatric nursing home and New Hampshire Hospital, the state has only 250 beds for a population of 1.3 million. The average stay at the New Hampshire Hospital is seven days, compared to 47 nationally, the two wrote.

This year alone, four mentally troubled people were were shot by police; three of them died. Delaney said re-integration into the community has to be done responsibly to ensure safety for the community and patients.

'I don't think that issue, standing alone, speaks to the issue of too many or too few people institutionalized,' he said.

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