A federal judge said New Hampshire has one year to stop holding psychiatric patients in hospital emergency rooms, overriding pleas from state health officials for more time to make that change.
The judge also said the state can only hold people in emergency rooms for up to six hours, before transferring them to another facility for treatment. State officials were asking for a timeline of up to 12 hours.
The ruling comes as part of a lawsuit challenging the longstanding practice of “ER boarding.” The judge overseeing the case previously ruled that holding involuntarily admitted mental health patients in emergency rooms represents an illegal seizure of hospital property.
State attorneys argued they would need up to two years to stop the practice, citing labor shortages and other hurdles to building a more robust system of mental health supports. But attorneys for a group of hospitals that intervened in the case argued the state has already had years to address the problem.
As of May 17, 34 adults were waiting in New Hampshire emergency rooms for mental health treatment, according to state data, and 37 treatment beds were unavailable due to renovations or staffing constraints. The same state dashboard shows 19 children awaiting treatment, with 33 psychiatric beds unavailable.
ACLU of New Hampshire Legal Director Gilles Bissonnette, who helped to challenge the state’s ER boarding practices in federal court, praised the judge’s ruling as a step in the right direction.
“Granite Staters experiencing a mental health crisis should have a robust array of treatment opportunities that meet their needs, including the level of treatment they need, when they need it, and where they need it,” Bissonnette said in an email. “We’ll be watching closely over the course of the next year as stakeholders create the needed changes to build a successful, inclusive system for mental health in New Hampshire.”
This article is being shared by a partner in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.
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