Health

Democrats highlight mental health money in vetoed budget

The Associated Press
Posted: Jul. 9, 2019 7:00 am Updated: Jul. 9, 2019 4:32 pm

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) New Hampshire Democrats accused Republican Gov. Chris Sununu of blocking progress on multiple mental health care fronts Tuesday, while his office countered that the state's challenges can be met without the business tax increases included in the budget he vetoed.

Sununu vetoed a bill last month that would have boosted Medicaid reimbursement rates for mental health care providers in part because he said such funding belonged in the state budget. A few weeks later, he vetoed the entire two-year, $13 billion budget, which had included $60 million for across-the-board rate increases for Medicaid providers, plus additional funding to address the growing problem of psychiatric patients waiting in emergency rooms and to improve services for children with behavioral health challenges. His key objection was the inclusion of a rollback of planned business tax cuts.

"The governor's veto and the resulting delays in the budget have a direct impact on the mental health of New Hampshire citizens," Rep. Mary Jane Wallner said Tuesday. "We urge Gov. Sununu to join us now in reaching an agreement on the budget, recognizing that we simply cannot afford more tax cuts for large corporations at the expense and wellbeing of the people of New Hampshire."

Wallner joined fellow Concord Democrat Sen. Dan Feltes at a news conference at Riverbend Community Health, where CEO Peter Evers said he had been encouraged by a bipartisan push over the last six months to provide much needed resources for mental health services.

"We've hit a stumbling block here," Evers said. "We need a resolution to this so that we can provide the services that we need to the vulnerable population of this state."

That includes the 10 people at Concord Hospital's emergency department on Tuesday waiting for psychiatric inpatient beds to open up, he said.

"That's somebody's mum, somebody's dad, somebody's kid who have not got a disposition for a level of care that they need," Evers said. "That's not acceptable for the people of this state and we need to move on that."

Sununu's office responded that he has supported more mental health programs than any governor in 25 years, including signing legislation last year that funded mobile crisis teams, designated receiving beds for patients in mental health crises and supported housing for those leaving the state mental health hospital. His proposed budget went further than Democrats in funding a 60-bed secure psychiatric facility to serve people who are now housed at the state prison even though they haven't been charged with crimes. The budget passed by the Legislature scaled that back to 25 beds.

A compromise plan Sununu outlined last month included the funding Democrats sought for addressing the emergency room boarding crisis and the comprehensive system of care for children's behavioral health, but only $30 million for Medicaid provider rate increases.