Experts at Antioch University New England will play a key part in shaping the state’s 10-year mental health plan.
Under a contract with the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services, the Keene university’s Center for Behavioral Health Innovation is tasked with drafting the plan, which will inform funding priorities.
The center was awarded the contract, which is not to exceed $146,661, in September and is charged with producing a draft report by the end of June. DHHS invited the Center for Behavioral Health Innovation to assist with the project. The N.H. Executive Council voted to award the contract.
“It’s really supposed to set the agenda at a high level for what (the state health department) is going to try to accomplish and fund and do,” said James Fauth, who co-manages the project at the university and described the report as a strategic plan.
In an email to The Sentinel Monday night, he wrote that his organization “cannot ensure that the state will act on the report.”
Fauth, director of the Center for Behavioral Health Innovation, said his center provides technical assistance to government and nonprofit organizations on ways to improve mental health programs.
The center will draft the plan, he said, but the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services will have final approval on the document. Fauth said about five experts from the center will study the literature and talk to practitioners, patients and health care leaders to develop the report. The recommendations will identify gaps in New Hampshire’s mental health system and provide ways to address them.
“Our role is a support role,” he said. “We’re going to be reading existing reports on the gaps and challenges within the current mental health system, we’re going to be looking to scholarly literature to understand what’s worked in other places and in other states and what some of the possible solutions are, we’re going to be engaging with stakeholders to gather input about what’s working and not (working) and how to make it better.”
The state produced a similar report in 2008, in collaboration with the New Hampshire Community Behavioral Health Association. The 2008 plan noted that the state’s psychiatric hospital, the New Hampshire Hospital in Concord, has struggled to provide mental health services to those who need them. The report pointed to several interrelated factors, including overall population increases, longer hospital stays, and statewide declines in the size of the mental health workforce and the number of community-based mental health beds.
The plan recommended adding four new 12- to 16-bed mental health units at local hospitals. It also recommended convening a task force to study ways to increase psychiatric care in community hospitals and ways to maintain and bolster the mental health workforce in the state. As of 2012, many of the suggestions in the 2008 plan had not been implemented, according to a report by the New Hampshire Community Behavioral Health Association.
The Associated Press reported in April that the state has been working to improve its mental health treatment capacity since it settled a lawsuit over the issue in 2013. In July, the state opened a 10-bed crisis unit at the New Hampshire Hospital, but patients continue to wait for mental health beds, the AP reported. Around that time, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu announced he is working on a proposal to add beds at the state psychiatric hospital.
Fauth said it’s still too early for his group to formulate conclusions about New Hampshire’s mental health system. But one issue the report will likely address is access to inpatient services in the state.
Locally, access to psychiatric care decreased within the past 18 months. Last year, Cheshire Medical Center, an affiliate of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health System, closed its inpatient mental health unit because of a lack of psychiatrists. The unit had the capacity to treat up to 12 adults and six adolescents.
The state has also struggled with a growing waiting list for mental health treatment at the New Hampshire Hospital. Last winter, the list reached a record high, with 68 people awaiting treatment there staying at emergency departments around the state, the Concord Monitor reported in April.
Fauth said his center will convene a kickoff meeting this winter, inviting anyone who is interested to learn about the center’s role in the 10-year plan. The exact date for the meeting, he said, is still undetermined.
“We’re just very, very early in the process and one of our next steps is going to be having kind of a session with the stakeholders to describe more of the process and what we’re going to do,” he said.