New bill to support transitional housing for individuals with mental health illness

New Hampshire Hospital provides acute, inpatient psychiatric services. (Hadley Barndollar | New Hampshire Bulletin)

New Hampshire Hospital provides acute, inpatient psychiatric services. (Hadley Barndollar | New Hampshire Bulletin) Hadley Barndollar

By SRUTHI GOPALAKRISHNAN

Monitor staff

Published: 01-17-2024 4:20 PM

Jessica Renda didn’t realize that things were about to get difficult when her eldest daughter was discharged last summer from New Hampshire Hospital, a state-run psychiatric facility.

After treatment for her mental health illness, Renda’s daughter, now 23, needed a place to live where she would get the supportive care to help her get back on her feet. Due to the family’s situation, the ideal option was transitional housing.

But the waiting list for transitional housing that would provide the counseling, medication and support to find a job, stretched for months.

With four younger kids at home, Renda couldn’t take her older daughter home either.

Faced with limited options, she made a difficult decision for one night – placing her daughter in a homeless shelter for women.

“We were really struggling with how to find her a place to live,” said Renda, 47, who lives in Milford. “That was probably one of the most stressful times as a mother to be like, ‘I have to put my daughter in a homeless shelter.’ That is not a good situation for people with mental health issues.”

Renda’s situation echoes a common challenge for many others in inpatient psychiatric facilities.

Across the state, 19 patients who are stable for discharge are waiting at New Hampshire Hospital for a transitional housing bed to free up, according to the Department of Health and Human Services update on Tuesday.

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Senate Bill 410 attempts to address this issue by establishing a fund that provides up to $25,000 per bed to either support existing transitional housing or establish new ones in the community for individuals facing mental health challenges. The bill further allocates funds to cover the financial deficits in operating these housing services.

State Senator Becky Whitley, the bill’s prime sponsor, said these important services for individuals with mental health illness come at a cost for Community Mental Health Centers.

“This is particularly problematic for supportive housing because there is no Medicaid reimbursement, almost no state funds provided so that means that all supportive housing Programs operated by CMHCs do operate at a financial loss,” said Whitley, a Hopkinton Democrat.

Riverbend Community Mental Health, a nonprofit offering behavioral services runs three residential programs but it is under financial strain.

For transitional housing for 10 residents, the mental health provider loses about $250,000 annually, said Lisa Madden, CEO at Riverbend Community Mental Health.

“We have a mission to keep those available in the community and are very committed to that,” Madden said at a Senate hearing last week.“But as our resources continue to struggle, we do not have access to additional COVID supports or things along that line, it’s getting harder and harder to keep them functioning.”

Renda kept hoping to find transitional housing for her daughter, but the wait was too long and her daughter was reluctant to remain in the hospital.

“100% that would be the best option for her,” she said. “They aren’t long term but having that in-between setting to help her get a little more stable would have helped.”

Insufficient transitional housing resources not only impact those who are waiting but also contribute to the prolonged waitlist for inpatient psychiatric beds — a persistent shortage in New Hampshire.

Those who could be discharged from New Hampshire Hospital take up space that they no longer need, while individuals who require acute psychiatric treatment wait in hospital emergency rooms for a treatment bed to free up.

The bill also helps to achieve the state’s “Mission Zero” plan which seeks to eliminate the boarding of psychiatric patients in emergency departments by 2025.

As a mother who has witnessed her eldest daughter’s struggles with mental health and behavioral issues since the age of 15, including hospitalizations, the bill brings relief for Renda.

“I think there’s a huge need for more transitional housing and this bill is wonderful,” she said. “I can’t imagine how many people when there’s not enough space for them just start to go back out to living on the streets.”