Boarding psychiatric patients in ED violates hospitals' rights, judge rules

A federal judge ruled that New Hampshire's practice of temporarily boarding mental health patients in hospital emergency departments is an illegal seizure of the hospitals' property, radio station WBUR reported Feb. 27.

U.S. District Judge Landya McCafferty said the state health department failed to meet its obligation to immediately transport patients out of hospital ERs and into appropriate mental health facilities when held involuntarily due to a mental health crisis. Leaving those patients in emergency departments violates the hospitals' right to be free of unreasonable government seizure, according to the ruling.

The judge did not immediately require the practice to end but told hospitals and the state Department of Health and Human Services to come up with a timeline to resolve the issue. 

The ruling is part of an ongoing federal lawsuit by patients who allege their due process rights were violated. A group of about 20 hospitals in New Hampshire intervened, saying the state's practices violated their constitutional rights. 

In a statement to WBUR, New Hampshire Hospital Association President Steve Ahnen said the state's hospitals "look forward to working with state leaders to ensure achievement of a permanent solution as quickly as practicable."

The state health department declined to comment on pending litigation.

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