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January 14. 2013 9:19PM

Group calls for $38 million for NH mental health needs

CONCORD - An organization that represents community-based mental health centers released a $38 million strategy on Monday for addressing what it terms the "horrific escalation of (mental health) crises" in the Granite State.

The New Hampshire Community Behavioral Health Association, which comprises 10 mental health centers, made its recommendations on the one-month anniversary of the Newtown, Conn., shooting.

"The last month has seen a horrific escalation of crises in mental health and the failings of our community-based system. A month ago (Monday), the shootings in Newtown, Conn., shocked our community and also raised the public's concerns about mental health issues," said Jay Couture, president of the association.

A key lawmaker who will be involved in writing an upcoming budget doubted state officials will be able to increase state spending on mental health to the amount recommended - $18.8 million in each of the next two budget years.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Morse, R-Salem, said other matters are part of the mix, such as uncompensated care delivered by hospitals and Medicaid expansion.

"It is a whole system. There's no way you can single out mental health and not talk about hospitals," he said.

Local mental health centers provide residential beds and specialized outpatient programs to clients suffering from mental illness, all in an effort to stabilize them in order to avoid expensive and restrictive hospitalization.

The state is half-way through a 10-year plan designed to restore that community-based mental health program.

"While some small efforts have been made to begin the investments outlined in the plan, the reality is that, at almost every level, we have actually fallen backward since the plan's release in 2008," the association said.

Most of the state money spent on mental health would be matched through the federal Medicaid system, the association said.

The plan relies significantly on beds or housing: funding 132 beds in residential treatment programs, subsidizing the unpaid portions of the federal Section 8 housing program for the mentally ill, and opening four facilities across the state to treat people who are involuntarily committed.

Other programs call for increasing the number of psychiatrists in the state, providing inpatient psychiatric care in community hospitals, and adding 12 intensive outpatient treatment teams to the six teams that now exist.

mhayward@unionleader.com

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