In 2022, every New Hampshire mental health center will have operating mobile crisis units. The mobile units are designed to work as an ambulance does, but for mental health needs.
The combination of local mental health crisis teams and a new statewide phone number linked to the service is a part of New Hampshire’s push to reduce the volume of Granite Staters visiting emergency rooms for mental health crises. New Hampshire continues to see a bottleneck for psychiatric treatment in emergency rooms, with two children and 23 adults waiting for a bed as of Dec. 30.
When the contracts for these mobile crisis units were finalized over the summer, only three of New Hampshire’s 10 mental health centers had fully operational units. And amidst a health care worker shortage, the unit teams are still looking for more staff.
Jay Couture, president and CEO of Seacoast Mental Health Center, says because many mental health centers are launching units at the same time, they’re often competing directly for staff. But Couture says she’s been working toward this launch for years and she’s excited for it.
Still, she says she’s “a little daunted about the reality of trying to fill these spots and wanting to make sure that we continue to have the best services possible so that nobody falls through the cracks.”
Roger Osmun, the president and CEO of West Central Behavioral Health, which sees patients from Claremont to Lyme, says there are a few staffing shifts like the overnight and weekends, where his teams are still short. He says high housing costs in the area make it especially difficult to attract staff.
But the mental health centers may not have to operate at peak demand right away.
Because the new statewide mobile crisis system isn’t operational until 2022, Osmun says sharing information about it can be complicated, “When you bring it up, everybody is asking, what is that number? And we’re like, well, that number isn’t operational yet.”
The new NH Rapid Response Access Point phone number is 1-833-710-6477, and it will go live on January 1st.
People calling the number will receive over-the-phone support to help them navigate their mental health crisis. The aid could include over-the-phone referrals to outpatient services, or if needed, the mobile crisis unit could be dispatched.
In the summer of 2022, when the National Suicide Hotline is replaced with the three-digit 988 number, New Hampshire will also transition to that simpler, three-digit line.
Osmun and Couture have been explaining how the service will work to local partners and are working directly with schools and police departments, and the Lebanon Police Department has already been passing some of its mental health-related calls to the region’s mobile crisis unit.