January 8, 2013

N.H. mental health advocates say state is facing access crisis

The Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. - New Hampshire residents seeking help with personal mental health emergencies have become engulfed in the much larger crisis of access to critical treatment, advocates and medical providers said Monday.

Emergency rooms are filling up with patients waiting for beds to open up at the state psychiatric hospital, and many patients wait for days or even a week.

On Monday morning alone, there were 31 adults and five children in emergency departments around the state waiting for admission, said Kenneth Norton, executive director of New Hampshire chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Two adults at Concord Hospital had been waiting for four days, and a teenager had been waiting for two.

"We do not categorically delay essential treatment for cancer, heart disease, stroke or any other life-threatening medical illness," he said. "And while it is morally wrong to do this to any person, it is unconscionable to do this to our children."

Norton was joined by representatives from more than a dozen other groups, including the New Hampshire Hospital Association, New Hampshire Medical Society, community mental health centers and law enforcement. Participants said the growing problem not only endangers those with mental illness but hospital staff and other emergency room patients.

On Wednesday, for example, nearly half of the 27 beds at Elliot Hospital in Manchester were taken by psychiatric patients, leaving patients with chest pain, head injuries and broken bones stranded in the waiting room, said Dr. John Seidner, president of the New Hampshire chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

Dr. Jeffrey Fetter, president of the New Hampshire Psychiatric Society, said days spent idle in an emergency room represent wasted opportunities to prevent suicide, assault and suffering. Someone in the midst of a psychiatric crisis needs to be surrounded by safety, not chaos, he said.

"We've all been there -- flashing lights, alarms, staff rushing urgently to stabilize a crash victim. These rooms were designed for patients suffering from heart attacks, not hallucinations," he said.

Monday's news conference followed last month's announcement by the state Department of Health and Human Services of a new plan to reduce the wait time for inpatient psychiatric care.

 

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