NH bill targets transitional housing

By Eileen Weber
March 28th, 2024
Susan Stearns, executive director of NAMI New Hampshire
Susan Stearns is the executive director of NAMI New Hampshire.

New Hampshire is trying to improve transitional housing for people with mental illness who might otherwise be homeless.

Currently under committee perusal, Senate Bill 410 aims to establish a fund that provides up to $25,000 per bed. That money, which amounts to $1.5 million allocated to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), would go to either existing transitional housing or new facilities within the community.

The bill proposes further allocating these funds to support the operating costs of housing services until June 2025.

“Mission Zero is an important initiative but even without that, the housing issues are significant so anything we can do to help is a good thing.” -- Susan Stearns, executive director, NAMI New Hampshire

The transitional housing bill comes at a time when New Hampshire is rolling out its “Mission Zero” campaign to eliminate emergency room boarding. In a recent press release, Governor Chris Sununu discussed how Mission Zero provides the opportunity for residents to access appropriate care and become independent in their community.

“Successful treatment does not end the day a patient is discharged from the hospital,” he said. “With wraparound services, Mission Zero works to not only address the challenges of emergency department boarding, but to provide Granite Staters with the tools to reintegrate into their communities and thrive.”

Addressing ED boarding and transitional housing simultaneously, New Hampshire is giving mental health problems in the state a one-two punch.

According to the DHHS working in conjunction with the New Hampshire Hospital Association, the plan is to expand clinics for mental health and substance use; increase designated receiving facility beds across the state; create more access points that are alternatives to hospitals and emergency departments; and work with landlords and property owners to help with more permanent and supportive housing options.

Susan Stearns, executive director of NAMI New Hampshire, clarified the campaign strategy, noting that Mission Zero calls for more transitional housing while the legislation provides funds for community mental health centers and increases compensation.

“Mission Zero is an important initiative but even without that, the housing issues are significant so anything we can do to help is a good thing.”

Sen. Becky Whitley, (D-15th District) the prime sponsor of the bill, has spoken to the media about the housing crisis especially affecting people with mental health issues.

Housing is also difficult for individuals transitioning out of hospital settings from New Hampshire Hospital into the community, she said.

She noted in the “New Hampshire Business Review” that these services often come at a high cost for Community Mental Health Centers (CMHC). “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.”

Lisa Madden, MSW, is president and CEO of Riverbend Community Mental Health, Inc., in Concord.

Riverbend is a non-profit organization that offers behavioral health services in three residential programs. With little to no state funding or insurance reimbursement, the facility loses approximately $250,000 annually.

“That’s a big bite out of my budget,” she said. “Transitional housing is a critical element in people’s recovery. I’m very excited about this bill furthering the effort. It’s a step in the right direction but this won’t fix everything. This is an opportunity to help centers losing money or in need of a substantial amount of investment, while we look for a long-term housing solution.”

Stearns agreed that transitional housing is critical, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Some people when they are discharged from a facility need more assistance, structure, or supervision to be safe in the community.

“It helps them move toward independence,” she said. “But there’s a caution there. We need an array of different types of beds and restrictiveness. Just because we build it doesn’t mean it’s best for everyone. Some people need short-term housing and some people need long-term.”

She noted the advantage to transitional housing is people can receive care in the community rather than on site in a psychiatric hospital. And with staff shortages so significant, telehealth is an option in these cases to expand the ability to serve those in need.

Stearns believes the intent of the bill would be to continue transitional housing funding in the next two-year budget cycle rather than have the funding run out in June 2025.

She also said New Hampshire has a 24/7 Rapid Response for anyone who needs help. The hotline can be accessed at 988, by calling or texting 833-710-6477, or visiting nh988.com.

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