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Senate takes up children’s behavioral health bill

February 12, 2019

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Mobile crisis teams would make house calls to children with mental health problems within an hour anywhere in the state under a bill backed by a Senate committee Tuesday.

Legislation passed in 2016 required the state to begin building a comprehensive system of care for children’s behavioral health that emphasizes family-driven, community-based services coordinated across multiple systems, such as health care, child protection and juvenile justice. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee held a public hearing Tuesday on a follow-up bill, the centerpiece of which is the creation of mobile crisis teams specifically designed to serve children.

Sen. Dan Feltes, the main sponsor of the bipartisan bill, acknowledged that significant cost of such teams — $4.5 million per year — but said the bill will ultimately save the state money by preventing more costly hospitalizations and out-of-state placements.

“It’s no secret that we have a child protection crisis. It’s no secret that we have an opioid epidemic that exacerbates the situation with our state’s children, and it’s no secret that we have an unaddressed children’s mental health system in this state,” said Feltes, D-Concord. “In many ways, honestly, we’ve left our children behind as we’ve taken a number of steps moving forward to deal with these issues. What this bill we can send a clear message that that ends down. We’re really going to do cost-effective, upstream services for our state’s children.”

Michael Skibbie, policy director at the Disability Rights Center of New Hampshire, reminded committee members of concerns his organization has raised about children ending up at the state’s juvenile detention center not because of significant delinquency issues but because of unmet behavioral health needs.

“It’s an opportune time, and it’s a time of great need,” he said.

The committee, which voted 4-0 to recommend the bill’s passage, also heard from parents who experienced the current system’s shortcomings firsthand. In a letter, Holly Fenn said her 14-year-old son died by suicide in 2009, and two years ago, her then 16-year-old son ended up with a bump on his head the size of a baseball because he had been hitting it against the wall to relieve anxiety and depression. He had to wait three months to be interviewed by a triage spec8ialist and another month and a half to be paired with a therapist.

“As I’m sure you can appreciate, my husband and I were highly aware of the consequence of not seeking mental health care promptly,” she wrote. “If New Hampshire had mobile crisis services for children, our son could have received the immediate care he so desperately needed.”

Another mother, Diane Mullin, wrote that her 17-year-old daughter was fortunate to have been seen by an adult mobile crisis team based in Manchester.

“From a phone call when I need support or my daughter requires an urgent visit, they have delivered what we have needed when we needed it the most,” she wrote. “It has allowed her to process and receive the help she needs in her own environment, in a quiet setting, where she feels safe and can interact with the crisis team and accept assistance to develop a safety plan, and work through the moment of crisis with experts.”

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