Lawmakers hear testimony about ‘dismal’ Secure Psychiatric Unit

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Photos of the Secure Psychiatric Unit of the State Prison for Men in Concord. Top left photo shows metal booths where some mentally ill patients receive group therapy. Top right shows a typical room at SPU. Below photo shows the prison fencing outside the unit.
Photos of the Secure Psychiatric Unit of the State Prison for Men in Concord. Top left photo shows metal booths where some mentally ill patients receive group therapy. Top right shows a typical room at SPU. Below photo shows the prison fencing outside the unit.

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There was little disagreement at a legislative hearing Thursday that the Secure Psychiatric Unit at the State Prison for Men in Concord is a “dismal” place.

But where else to house the men and women sent to SPU solely because they are mentally ill and a danger to themselves or others weighed on members of the House Committee on Health, Human Services and Elderly Affairs.

There was some disagreement, however, over whether SPU is a hospital or a prison unit.

The committee heard testimony on state Rep. Renny Cushing’s House Bill 1541 that the Hampton Democrat hopes will end the practice of housing non-criminal mentally ill patients in SPU with criminals who are mentally ill.

“That’s not a hospital setting. That’s not a hospital. It’s not a therapeutic setting,” Cushing said of SPU. “The state of New Hampshire needs to step up.”

Cushing said he meant no criticism to the Department of Corrections and believes employees do the best they can with what they have.

SPU is situated on the prison grounds and is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections.

Mentally ill patients who haven’t committed a crime are comingled with mentally ill people who have been convicted of crimes including assault, robbery, sexual assault and murder.

Cushing said the state receives no patient reimbursement from the federal government because SPU is not a hospital.

Paula Mattis, director of medical and forensics at the Department of Corrections, twice referred to SPU as a hospital in her testimony. Beatrice Coulter, a longtime nurse, who resigned after briefly working at SPU, told committee members SPU is not a licensed hospital.

Mattis said: “The secure psychiatric unit, while on the grounds of the state prison for men, is a forensic hospital.”

Mattis took notice of the several comments committee members and those testifying made about the appearance of SPU – that it looks and feels like a prison.

⇒RELATED STORY: Mom threatened with arrest for bringing cell phone to secure psych unit threatened

“Yes, we may not be pretty, but the services we provide are a wide range and equal or exceed the level of what other states may offer in similar facilities,” Mattis said.

Mattis said there were 10 patients who were housed at SPU that would be affected by Cushing’s legislation out of a population of 59. The number varies because patients are sent back to New Hampshire Hospital when their condition improves, although some remain in SPU for years.

“(New Hampshire Hospital) sends to us the most extreme cases. I could tell you war stories about that,” but in the interest of brevity, Mattis said, she would move on.

New Hampshire Hospital is the state’s facility to treat mentally ill patients and is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Health and Human Services. The hospital transfers patients to SPU when staff can’t manage them.

The Department of Corrections opposes Cushing’s bill, Mattis said. If passed, the patients affected by the bill would have to be housed out of state, which would hinder their recovery, she said.

Coulter said SPU is not a hospital because it is not licensed by the state and has no entity overseeing its work.

Coulter said she was ethically troubled by what she saw during her brief employment at SPU. After the hearing, she said she believed the civil rights of some patients were violated by comingling non-criminal patients with inmates who have been convicted of crimes.

She also criticized the use of …. click here to read the rest of the story on InDepthNH.org


 

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Nancy WestAbout InDepthNH: Nancy West founded the nonprofit New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism in April. West is the executive editor of the center’s investigative news website, InDepthNH.org. West has won many awards for investigative reporting during her 30 years at the New Hampshire Union Leader. She has taught investigative journalism at the New England Center for Investigative Reporting’s summer program for pre-college students at Boston University. West is passionate about government transparency. The New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism is a member of the Institute for Nonprofit News, formerly called Investigative News Network, which is also InDepthNH.org’s fiscal sponsor. Click here to read about INN to learn more about the mission of nonprofit news.

About Carol Robidoux 6250 Articles
Longtime NH journalist and publisher of ManchesterInkLink.com. Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!