Senate Finance committee tackles mental health funding

Posted: May. 19, 2017 7:00 am Updated: May. 19, 2017 4:43 pm

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) The Senate Finance Committee on Friday endorsed a plan to improve services for New Hampshire children with severe emotional disturbances by using money Gov. Chris Sununu initially wanted to spend on adults.

Sununu's proposed budget includes $3 million per year to enhance Assertive Community Treatment programs, which take a team-based approach to providing comprehensive treatment to adults with severe mental illness.

The Senate Finance Committee recommended reducing that amount to $1.5 million per year and using the other $1.5 million to establish a Medicaid benefit specifically to provide home- and community-based behavioral health services for children.

Under an existing grant-funded program, teams develop and implement individual plans for families, which also get help with wraparound services such as peer support, respite care and funding for transportation and other expenses that could be barriers to treatment. The program serves about 50 children, and officials estimate about 100 would be eligible under the new program.

Democrats on the committee objected to the reduction, noting the latest government review of a legal settlement requiring New Hampshire to improve mental health services found the state out of compliance in terms of Assertive Community Treatment team capacity. Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, unsuccessfully argued that not only should the adult treatment teams get the full $3 million, but that the state should spend $490,000 to create a team for children.

But Republican Senate President Chuck Morse said he wouldn't govern by lawsuit and that the state is doing the best it can.

"We're certainly making a strong effort on drugs and alcohol (treatment) and mental health, and this one I don't think we can go forward with," he said. "If you don't remove the money from this line, you don't get wraparound services."

Sununu's spokesman, Michael Todd, said funding for both the Assertive Community Treatment teams and children's services are above and beyond the requirements of the legal settlement.

"As legislation was being developed, there was a recognition that services must be rebalanced to ensure that the highest need, most vulnerable children, have access to increased services," he said. "Gov. Sununu is supportive of this effort."

The committee also backed requiring the state Department of Health and Human Services to develop a plan to relocate the 24 juvenile beds at the state psychiatric hospital. The department has sought $3 million to design a new children's facility on the hospital grounds, but lawmakers have said the state should come up with a plan to move children away from the hospital's adult units before spending money on a design.