Ensuring that mental health services are readily available to address crisis situations is an ongoing challenge facing service providers. In New Hampshire, the state has in recent years focused its energies on developing a hub-and-spoke network of community mental health providers in its efforts to improve access points for those requiring services. In some cases, however, it may be necessary to bring the hub to those facing acute situations, and it’s a promising development that additional funding will enable the formation of mobile mental health units throughout the state, including in this area.
Last week, the Executive Council approved $52.4 million of additional spending for the state’s community mental health centers. The share of that earmarked for Monadnock Family Services, this region’s center, will enable it, once plans are approved by the state, to launch a mobile crisis response team here, hopefully by the end of the current fiscal year. According to Phil Wyzik, the organization’s CEO, the two-person team will meet people having a mental health or substance use crisis where they are, whether at home or some other location, not only to address the immediate need, but also to help direct those in crisis to the additional resources they may need afterward.
An added benefit is that the mental health units may reduce statewide and local demand on hospital emergency rooms, which are often where people in crisis situations are now sent for help. This will be particularly welcome at a time when the state has been struggling with a shortage of psychiatric beds at designated receiving institutions. That shortage has led to a shameful warehousing of mental health patients in ERs until spaces at the designated institutions open up, in some cases for prolonged periods that the N.H. Supreme Court recently ruled are unlawful.
The additional funding approved by the Executive Council — 90 percent of which is coming from the state, with the balance being federally funded — will also be used by the community mental health centers for other needs. Each center will be able to add six supported-housing beds, an employment counselor and services for those with a hearing loss. Every bit of help from the state is needed. The ravages of opioid and other substance use was a critical and growing concern even before the COVID-19 pandemic. And, as Wyzik observed to The Sentinel, since its onset people “have been under more stress and disruption,” contributing to nationwide increases in suicide rates, drug abuse and violence.
Even with the additional funding, the launch of the mobile mental health units still faces a significant challenge that bedevils the region, state and nation in tackling growing mental health needs — the shortage of mental health professionals. According to the most recent data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, only 45 percent of New Hampshire’s need for such professionals was being met as of last September. The result, Wyzik says, is that “it’ll be a significant challenge” for MFS to get its new unit launched.
Though it doesn’t immediately address that intractable problem, the additional funding to help launch mobile mental health units around the state and expand some additional services promises to be money well spent. Significant challenges to delivering the level of mental health care needed in New Hampshire will remain and must be met. But, as Wyzik stated, the state’s “investment for this kind of service is essential.”