Significant Win for NH Hospitals in IEA Boarding Case

Sheehan Phinney attorneys Michael Ramsdell, JP Harris, and Jennifer Lyon secured a significant victory in federal court on behalf of the NH Hospital Association and twenty of the state’s hospitals that is an important step to ending the state’s Involuntary Emergency Admission (IEA) boarding crisis.

When someone in acute mental health is brought to an emergency room (which is where the Department of Health and Human Services directs the patient to go in the first instance) and is found to be a danger to himself/herself or others, an IEA certificate is signed, which starts an involuntary detention. The statutory scheme requires that the patient be transported “immediately” to one of the state’s special facilities (called a DRF) and then receive a probable cause hearing within three days, to confirm/disconfirm whether the patient should continue to be held.  For the last decade, the state has failed to transport or accept the transport of IEA patients “immediately” to a DRF.  Instead, the IEA patients remain in emergency departments for days, sometimes weeks while the state maintains a “waitlist” of IEA patients and the hospitals struggle to care for patients who need specialized care and attention.

After over 4 years of litigation, Judge McCafferty granted summary judgment for the hospitals on the theory that the Commissioner of Health and Human Services violates the hospitals’ Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures of their property (their facilities, staff, and resources) by refusing to accept IEA patients into one of the state’s facilities “immediately.” In other words, leaving IEA patients in hospital emergency departments violates the IEA statute and is therefore an unreasonable seizure. The court ordered the hospitals and the Commissioner to attempt to agree on terms that will end the IEA boarding crisis and that effort is underway.

Read the full Court Order here.

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Sheehan Phinney is a full-service business law firm representing local, national and international clients with innovative approaches and practical solutions. Founded in 1937, Sheehan Phinney has grown to over 70 attorneys with five offices throughout New Hampshire and Massachusetts and is known for professional excellence, practical counsel, and commitment to both its clients and the communities it serves. Sheehan Phinney is the exclusive member in New Hampshire of Lex Mundi, the world’s leading association of premier independent law firms.