The Bulletin Board

Remote public hearing on ER hold proposal for mental health patients set for Tuesday

By: - June 7, 2021 1:46 pm
Department of Health and Human Services

The Department of Health and Human Services in Concord. (Dave Cummings | New Hampshire Bulletin)

The public will get its first chance Tuesday to weigh in on a controversial new proposal that would let hospitals – as well as the state – detain people in emergency rooms until they can be connected with mental health treatment. 

The length of that proposed hold is just one of many unanswered questions surrounding the “medical protective custody” law pitched to senators in late May by the state Department of Health and Human Services. 

DHHS Commissioner Lori Shibinette said she asked for the medical protective custody legislation to provide hospitals another option for detaining mental health patients while they are being diagnosed to identify appropriate treatment, such as substance misuse rehab or long-term dementia care. Currently, the only option available to hospitals is an involuntary emergency admission to the state hospital or its partner sites, a level of care Shibinette said is not always necessary.

The state Supreme Court ruled in May that the state was violating the involuntary emergency admission law by holding people beyond three days without a hearing to challenge their detainment. 

Health care providers and advocates have raised concerns about the length of stay and the process for challenging this new medical protective custody. Shibinette said the state is proposing a three-day hold, although the proposed legislation asks for a seven-day hold. And, unlike the current law, where a judge hears a patient’s challenge, DHHS would rule on challenges in medical protective custody cases. 

Advocates said they fear this legislation could lead to longer stays in emergency rooms. It is unclear from the proposed legislation whether the state could seek an involuntary emergency admission at the end of the protective custody hold. 

The remote public hearing before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee begins at 10 a.m. The proposal has been added as a non-germane amendment to House Bill 565, which seeks to create a study committee on charitable gaming.

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications. Email: [email protected]