Judge: New Hampshire has a year to stop holding psychiatric patients in emergency rooms

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Published: May. 19, 2023 at 2:00 PM EDT
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CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire has one year to stop the involuntary holding of psychiatric patients in emergency rooms, a federal judge ruled, several months after declaring the state’s practice unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge Landya McCafferty issued an order Wednesday after giving the state and hospitals time to submit proposed orders or a timeline for how they would develop an order together. But both sides couldn’t come to an agreement. McCafferty ruled following a hearing Monday.

McCafferty also ruled the state can only hold people in emergency rooms for up to six hours, before transferring them to a facility for treatment. State officials had asked for up to 12 hours. She asked for status reports from the state every four months.

New Hampshire has long struggled with a mental health system that advocates say is overburdened at every stage, from initiation of treatment to re-entry into the community. Emergency room boarding, with people in crisis waiting days or weeks for treatment, has become a flashpoint and focus of multiple lawsuits.

McCafferty’s ruling in February that said the state is violating the rights of hospitals by seizing their property came after a lawsuit filed by patients who argue they were involuntarily held in emergency rooms without an opportunity to contest their detentions. A group of hospitals joined the lawsuit, arguing their rights also were violated.