Published DateThe New Hampshire state operating budget bill that has now made it through its first major hurdle — approval from the House Finance Committee — will give the state's mental health system the most meaningful boost it has had in many years. As members of Genesis Behavioral Health's Board of Directors, we want to sincerely thank the members of the Finance Committee for listening to the consumers, families, providers and others who came before you to ask for restoration of our community-based mental health system. The Committee's support for funding the state's Ten-Year Mental Health Plan is a breath of fresh air and cause for great optimism.
We also need to applaud Governor Maggie Hassan for putting mental health front and center in her budget proposal, and for recognizing that this system is a critical part of the safety net for a large part of our population. Others who have helped build the case for moving the Ten-Year Plan forward are: hospitals and emergency room doctors; the police, courts, and state and county corrections systems; substance abuse treatment and prevention programs; healthcare providers; and the voices in the media who have worked to bring the crisis in the mental health system to the public's attention. The work of these groups and individuals has also served to jump-start the next serious conversation we need to have: about the stigma that separates mental illness from other chronic long-term diseases. As has been said before, we don't treat people with cardiac problems or kidney failure the way we treat people in a psychiatric crisis in this state. In addition to correcting disparities in funding, we need to do a better job of educating people with facts about mental illness and thereby eliminate this bias.
But right now there is hope on the horizon and that is because of the budget the Finance Committee is sending to the full House for a vote on April 3rd. The funding for this biennium won't solve all the problems created by years of budget cuts, but it will help the system catch up, by directing resources for:
— A new 10-bed Designated Receiving Facility.
— A new 16-bed Acute Psychiatric Residential Treatment Program, similar to the Cypress Center in Manchester.
— Ten new Assertive Community Treatment Teams, and expansion of ACT team coverage to seven days per week. Four adult teams will be added to the system in 2014, and six children's teams will be added in 2014 and 2015.
— One hundred new slots in the Housing Bridge Subsidy Program – this funding will help keep those discharged from NH Hospital and others from becoming homeless and/or re-admitted to the Hospital until they can qualify for Section 8 housing assistance.
— New community residence beds.
— Expansion of programs for older adults and for Peer Support Services.
— Two additional peer-operated crisis beds with statewide capacity.
These elements of the Ten-Year Mental Health Plan in the House Finance Committee budget are intended to start re-building the community-based system — not add to the population at N.H. Hospital. There is no reason to return to a centralized mental health system in this state, but years of cuts to the community-based system, the loss of psychiatric beds in community hospitals, and the current waitlist for N.H. Hospital, do mean that some new beds are needed right now. The waitlist for N.H. Hospital beds, which puts adults and children in local hospital emergency rooms, was 44 on one day last month, and there is broad consensus that that is unsafe, clinically unacceptable, and just plain wrong.
The damage that has been done to the community-based mental health system didn't occur just as a result of cuts in the last biennial budget. It was years in the making; some was due to rate cuts, and some was because the 2008 recession hit almost immediately after release of the state's Ten-Year Mental Health Plan. The need now is to support this budget's funding of the Ten-Year Mental Health Plan. The House Finance Committee's decision to present their colleagues with a budget that provides a solid foundation for re-building the community-based mental health system is a huge step forward, for individuals and families dealing with mental illness, for communities, for the whole state. We ask that all members of the House support the Finance Committee and vote Yes on the budget on April 3rd.
Trudy Fletcher (Belmont)
Miller Lovett (Meredith)
Carol Pierce (Laconia)
Jennifer Sereni (Sanbornton)
Matthew Soza (Laconia)
Jannine Sutcliffe (Holderness)
Cinde Warmington (Concord)
Board Members of Genesis Behavioral Health