Cushing keeps up fight over NH’s secure psychiatric unit

By Max Sullivan,

Posted May 5, 2018 at 5:01 PM Updated May 5, 2018 at 5:01 PM
CONCORD — State officials say transporting patients to the secure psychiatric unit at the state prison does not violate constitutional rights despite what some lawmakers describe as the unjust criminalization of mental patients.

The secure psychiatric unit (SPU), located adjacent the state prison in Concord, has been described as Dickensian by state Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton. He has advocated for improvements to the management of involuntarily committed patients who cannot be safely housed at the state hospital, from calling on a new facility to built to having the SPU accredited as a psychiatric hospital.

While other lawmakers have said Cushing may be right in pushing for improving the state’s management of those patients, they say funding makes it difficult to address each need in the state’s health care system.

Representatives on the House Health and Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee, said the Legislature is faced with many needs related to care for mental illness that are costly. Rep. Mark Pearson, R-Hampstead, a committee member, noted the state Division of Children, Youth and Families is currently managing more cases than the individual case workers can manage and there are some cases “falling through the cracks” because, “simply there’s only so many hours in the day.”

“More money needs to go to that, as well,” Pearson said. “More money needs to go to the opioid crisis and I can think of several others. There’s a lot of real legitimate needs. Not fake stuff, not ‘gimme, gimme,’ but real needs, and there’s only so much money to go around.”

Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards said she understands Cushing’s concerns but said the SPU is a legitimate psychiatric care facility that the state Supreme Court has ruled can be a place to which patients may be transported. The court ruled in 1986 that bringing patients to the SPU did not violate any constitutional rights.

Andrew Gorrill