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Jul 11, 2015 12:33 PM

State falling behind in meeting mental health needs under court settlement


CONCORD - The state has yet to make good on providing crisis teams, supportive housing and other services it promised people with mental illness to settle a class action lawsuit last year.

"I’m not seeing any incremental improvements," Jonathan Vacik, an emergency room doctor at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, told N.H. Public Radio. "But I’m also not seeing anything worse happening. But then again it’s pretty hard to go down from here."

His impressions are confirmed by a court-appointed monitor, who issued a recent report saying the state has failed to hit the benchmarks it agreed to as part of the settlement. That settlement calls for the state to spend $30 million over four years on community-based services for the mentally ill.

Without those community-based services, people in crisis have not been able to get the care they need and are getting stuck in emergency rooms waiting for beds at the state psychiatric hospital.

"So people have a right to receive those services in the community, and they’re both better for people and really a much better fiscal policy for the state," said lawyer Amy Messer, who work for the Disability Rights Center in N.H. and helped to sue the state.

Without supports in the community, patients can end up cycling in and out of the state psychiatric hospital, a costly process.

The court monitor's report, issued June 30, did say that state officials are committed to implementing the mental health settlement.

And Messer told NHPR she is optimistic, acknowledging that the changes are a huge endeavor but that the state is on the right track for the first time in years.

In response to the mental health settlement, both Democrats and Republicans proposed increasing funding for mental health services over the next two years. But while the state budget remains in limbo, funding is stuck at last year’s levels until budget negotiations allow for its passage.

Meanwhile, Health Commissioner Nick Toumpas says he is considering shuffling funding within his department to make sure mental health funding stays on track to hit the settlement’s benchmarks.


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