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January 07. 2014 7:31PM

Senate committee pushes work on more beds for mentally ill

CONCORD — The Senate Capital Budget Committee on Tuesday approved speeding up work on 10-bed stabilization unit at New Hampshire Hospital.

The new unit within the hospital will provide care for patients in need of immediate psychiatric services so they can be stabilized before being transferred to other less intensive care.

The committee approved $375,000 for the project, which is scheduled to be begin before 2016.

“The availability of beds at the New Hampshire Hospital has been stretched thin repeatedly in recent months, leading to increased workloads at local emergency rooms and resulting in violence at the Elliot Hospital in Manchester,” said committee chairman Sen. David Boutin, R-Hooksett. “Our current capital budget appropriated the funding necessary to significantly increase capacity at the state hospital by 2016. However, it became clear following events during the summer as well as through meetings with community leaders, hospital officials and staff at the Department of Health and Human Services that this new capacity would be needed much sooner.”

In August, Health and Human Services Commissioner Nicholas Toumpas said he hoped the work could be done sooner, noting a recent 12-bed expansion at the hospital was constantly full, making 25 to 30 mental health patients wait daily in local emergency rooms until room opened up at the state hospital.

The increased capacity at the state hospital is one of a number of steps lawmakers and Gov. Maggie Hassan have taken to improve the state’s mental health system.

Last month, the state and mental health advocates settled a federal suit that will require more funding. The suit claimed the state was providing inadequate care.

One of the settlement’s provisions is to increase access to emergency services.

“This is only the first step,” Boutin said about the new unit. “Our state faces a number of challenges in the years ahead on how we diagnose, treat and care for our residents with mental health disorders.”The new stabilization unit will open once additional funding is found to pay for operation and equipment.

House capital budget writers will also have to approve the change allowing the new unit to be completed sooner than planned.

grayno@unionleader.com


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