Lawmakers agree to $12 million to address mental health crisis

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By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org

CONCORD — State budget framers have agreed to more than $12 million in federal pandemic relief funds for two projects public health officials say will help ease a long-running mental health crisis. date in the state.

Over the past 10 years, health and human services officials have tried to reduce the number of adults and teenagers waiting in hospital emergency rooms for a bed to open in a nursing home. psychiatric care.

Portsmouth Regional Hospital and its parent company HCA plan to build a 96-bed behavioral services hospital and the state will provide $15 million in capital in exchange for a seven-year contract for a minimum number of beds yet to be built. determine. The project is estimated at $45 million to build.

The for-profit company, which also owns Parkland Medical Center in Salem and Frisbie Memorial Hospital in Rochester, would consolidate its behavioral health programs at the new facility, which is expected to be Epping with a prime site off Highway 101 on the side Where is. from the junction with Route 125. The company has not yet obtained local approval for the project.

Several members of the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee wondered whether the contribution would set a precedent for the state supporting a private project, developed by a for-profit company.

Health and Human Services Division Behavioral Health Director Katja Fox said it’s not on that scale, but the state has provided incentive and rehabilitation grants to long-term care facilities. private and not-for-profit.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette told the committee the state was prepared to provide another $15 million capital repayment to a similar hospital project being developed by a nonprofit organization.

The two organizations were the only ones to offer to build additional mental health beds, she said.

“The boarding crisis has been going on for 10 years,” she said, adding that the department had added more beds and mobile crisis rapid response teams.

“The (mental health) system has been running at 100% capacity for 10 years,” Shibinette said, “and it’s not supposed to be doing this.”

The project will bring a total of 38 new beds and services will be consolidated into one facility, and she said the beds in the new hospital will be for both voluntary and involuntary patients.

Shibinette said the ER boarding numbers are for involuntary patients only. On Thursday, 20 adults were waiting for a bed to open, and five children.

The project would include 68 hospital beds for adults, 16 hospital beds for geriatrics and 12 hospital beds for adolescents (12 years and older).

The facility would also have 15 additional beds for an outpatient partial hospitalization program and two specialized programs for adolescents: eating disorders and dual diagnosis mental health and substance abuse.

The Eating Disorders Program may remain where it currently is in Salem, but may be moved to the new facility in the information provided to committee members.

And the attorney general’s office is expected to approve moving Frisbie’s behavioral health beds to the new facility.

Susan Stearns, executive director of the National Alliance for Mental Health in New Hampshire, said extra beds are welcome, along with the partial hospitalization program.

The current system is not robust enough to provide other levels of care, she said.

Stearns said the residential school crisis is the most visible focus of system failures, but the community mental health system needs to be robust enough that people receive services early on so they don’t have to. to be placed in hospitals.

“There’s a lot of work to be done on a system level, but it will help,” Stearns said. “I would like to see something in the North Country where the closest hospital bed is in Franklin.”

There needs to be more statewide access, Stearns said.

Last fall, Gov. Chris Sununu announced the state would buy Hampstead Hospital, which has contracted with the state to provide psychiatric care to inpatients during the pandemic.

The tax committee and executive board approved $15.1 million in federal stimulus funds to buy the 111-bed facility, though understaffing reduced patient numbers to about 40.

The state has struggled with teenagers stuck in hospital emergency rooms since the pandemic began. However, the pandemic has dramatically increased the number of children requiring hospital psychiatric care.

On Friday, the committee agreed to $2.2 million in federal pandemic money for a behavioral health strike team to help Hampstead Hospital respond to teens in mental health crisis.

According to information transmitted by Shibinette to the committee, a daily average of 16 young people waited for psychiatric care during the first two weeks of December.

In the state’s biennial budget, the legislature also approved $30 million for a new forensic psychiatric hospital adjacent to New Hampshire Hospital.

The facility would replace the secure psychiatric unit at Concord State Prison.

COVID-19 testing

The tax committee also approved accepting $12 million in funds from the American Relief Program Act to bid on home COVID-19 testing kits.

If the state is successful in obtaining the test kits, they would be sold through the Liquor Commission and the money would be returned to the state’s pandemic relief fund.

Sununu announced that the state would purchase the test kits during his Wednesday press conference on the state’s response to the pandemic.

Garry Rayno can be reached at [email protected]

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