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After violence at Elliot Hospital, Manchester aldermen call on state to allocate funds for urgent mental health care


MANCHESTER — The Board of Mayor and Alderman passed a unanimous resolution calling on state leaders to allocate more funds for urgent mental health services.

The vote at Tuesday's meeting came as a local man, Fern Ornelas, 54, remains in a Boston hospital with possible paralysis.  Following an altercation with a security guard at Elliot Hospital, Ornelas was arrested and at some point while in custody suffered a broken neck.  He had gone to the Elliot for psychiatric care.

The state Attorney General's Office recently joined the investigation into how Ornelas sustained such severe injuries.

The incident was the second act of violence involving a mental patient at the hospital since July, when a patient who had been held there for three days allegedly assaulted two hospital employees. Both Ornelas and the earlier patient were awaiting transfer to the New Hampshire State Hospital, which has a waiting list for beds.

The resolution, which was drafted by Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long, notes that there is a "lack of vital funding to address the needs of our citizens suffering with mental illness."

It calls on Gov. Maggie Hassan and the House and Senate leaders to "allocate surplus funding in an expeditious manner with the creation of involuntary beds and much-needed services to end this inhumane treatment of our citizens suffering with mental illness."

Earlier in the day, Mayor Ted Gatsas had met with hospital officials and top legislative leaders, including Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem. He said there is a common understanding something has to be done.

"I think it's paramount," he said. "There's been two tragedies in four months."

Alderman At-Large Dan O'Neil said there had been enough debate about the shortage in mental health funding; something has to be done "immediately."

"I grew up with Fern. I consider him a gentle man," he said. "Talk is cheap right now. I think we need to send a message to Concord. It's the 2010 Legislature that cut mental health, and it's coming home to roost right now."

Gatsas revealed that the Manchester Police Department stations an officer at the hospital 24 hours a day, at a cost to the department of $550,000 a year.

Alderman At-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur said the Elliot should do more to fund security. "The Elliot should have something for the community. They don't pay us any property taxes," he said.

tsiefer@unionleader.com

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