Report analyzes mental health care needs in rural N.H.

A newly released report finds that New Hampshire’s small hospitals are struggling to care for patients who need treatment for mental illness.

The report, “Help Needed: Emergency Mental Health Care in New Hampshire’s Rural Hospitals,” stems from a study conducted by the Foundation for Healthy Communities for the Rural Health Coalition, a group representing all of the rural hospitals in the state.

According to the report, the number of people with mental illness seeking help in rural hospital emergency departments increased by 15 percent between 2003 and 2005. Their primary diagnoses were wide ranging and included panic disorder, alcohol/drug abuse, schizophrenia and depressive neurosis.

“More than 2,000 people seek help for mental illness every year in rural emergency departments, and the numbers are rising,” said Foundation for Healthy Communities executive director Shawn LaFrance. “New Hampshire’s rural hospitals are challenged in trying to make sure those patients get care when they’re facing a mental health crisis.”

Depending on the availability of other community resources, there is variation among the 12 hospitals surveyed in how they can assist a person in need of emergency mental health care. But they do share many common concerns.

“The report clearly shows that small hospitals across the state are fulfilling a critical need in New Hampshire as a part of the mental health safety net in their respective communities,” said Michelle McEwen, president and CEO of Speare Memorial Hospital in Plymouth and Foundation for Healthy Communities chair. “But the report also emphasizes how hard it is to access in-patient care and the need for more mental health providers in our communities.”

Other issues identified in the report include the difficulties in finding in-patient mental health care for the uninsured, questions regarding the involuntary emergency admission (IEA) process, few follow-up services for substance abusers who undergo detoxification, a shortage of mental health professionals, transportation and safety concerns.

A full copy of the report can be found online at

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