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July 15. 2013 6:45PM

Dianne Mercier: Hospital emergency room is no place for the dangerously mentally ill

A PAPER WRITTEN by the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, commissioned by the Mental Health Commission in 2008, noted that “26% of the population over the age of 18 has a mental health disorder. This would suggest that more than 250,000 adults in New Hampshire have a diagnosable mental health disorder, and slightly more than 150,000 have a mental illness that significantly affects their ability to engage in daily living.”

One such individual arrived at the emergency room of Elliot Hospital on Friday, July 5. He stayed in the psychiatric evaluation center of the emergency department for days. On Monday, July 8, tragic and unimaginable consequences to Elliot employees resulted. 

These employees have spent their professional careers laying their hands on others with compassion and care. These caregivers experienced at the hands of a dangerous and mentally ill individual a brutal attack with an outcome that remains uncertain. 

A hospital is no place for a dangerous individual to wait days for the appropriate level of care he or she requires and deserves. Elliot Hospital is committed to treating people with mental illness, but the small portion of the population who create a serious risk of harm to themselves or others cannot sit for days in an emergency department waiting for care at New Hampshire Hospital. Too many good people are at risk of being harmed.  

This tragedy raises many questions. How are we funding our mental health needs? Where are we failing to meet needs? Are we dealing adequately with those individuals who have crossed the line in severity of mental health issues and pose a risk to the community and themselves? Who is responsible for these individuals, their safety and the safety of the community at large? Is New Hampshire Hospital adequately funded? Should we re-institute the Designated Receiving Facilities?

Gov. Maggie Hassan has shown a commitment to addressing these questions. Though I fear the answers are not easy, they do exist. Concerns have been debated, researched and documented. Recommendations have been offered; it will take serious focus and a long-term commitment to provide the resources to address the recommendations. We need more beds at the state hospital, we need more inpatient and residential alternatives, and we need more psychiatrists and trained professional staff to help not only potentially dangerous patients, but those with the highest acuity mental illness without violent tendencies as well as those with recurrent chronic disorders. We need to become collectively intolerant over this and we have to insist that changes are made to address the needs of people and to safeguard our health care teams.

As we debate and respond, we should remember that mental illness is not a character weakness; it is a disease. For me, acknowledging this issue and demanding answers and action will remain a priority. This affects all of us.

People’s United Bank has established the Elliot Hospital Assault Relief Fund and has made the first $7,500 donation to directly help the two health care workers and their families who were brutally attacked. I invite you to give to this fund, as these families will have much to overcome in the coming year. Donations can be made online at www.ElliotHospital.org.

Dianne Mercier is president of People’s United Bank in New Hampshire and vice chairman of the board of directors of Elliot Hospital. The views expressed here are her own.


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