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Patients in prison?

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On Thursday, February 18 a House committee will host a public hearing on HB 1541, which would prohibit the state from housing an individual with mental illness in the state prison, unless the individual has been charged with a crime.

In New Hampshire, an individual with mental illness who “present[s] a serious likelihood of danger to himself or to others” may be committed to the secure psychiatric unit in the state prison.  

Under HB 1541, the state would need to build a separate secure psychiatric facility or send those patients to a secure hospital in another state.

Supporters of HB 1541 argue that it is unethical to treat patients the same as prisoners.

“People would be screaming if somebody had cancer and they decided rather than put them in a hospital to stick them in prison instead,” said bill sponsor Rep. Renny Cushing

Housing patients with mental illness alongside prisoners also makes the state ineligible for federal Medicaid reimbursement for those patients.

Opponents of HB 1541 argue that patients receive excellent care in the secure psychiatric unit.  Prisoners and patients also mingle in other treatment environments, such as drug rehabilitation facilities.

Lastly, the state psychiatric hospital says it may be difficult to keep patients and staff safe without the ability to make quick emergency transfers to the secure psychiatric unit in the state prison. 

The hearing on HB 1541 will take place at 10 a.m. in Room 205 of the Legislative Office Building.

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