By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — The Senate Finance Committee backed a new 25-bed, $17.5 million Secure Psychiatric Unit to replace the current facility at the men’s prison in Concord.
Working to finish their fiscal 2020-2021 biennial budget plan, committee members approved the facility on a 4-2 partisan vote.
The facility has been a sticking point between lawmakers and Gov. Chris Sununu who proposed a 40-bed, $40 million facility on the New Hampshire Hospital grounds in his proposed budget in February.
The House Finance Committee declined to include the new facility in its proposed budget saying it would be irresponsible to include the project without additional information from the governor’s office.
Since it was first proposed, possible uses for the facility have increased to include patients in mental health crisis currently waiting in hospital emergency rooms, community mental health support beds, and transitional beds for those leaving the hospital.
Currently there are 26 or 27 patients at the SPU with an annual average of about 20 patients.
Committee vice chair, Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, D-Concord, proposed the 25-bed facility which he said is consistent with what had been proposed by Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton.
Last week administrative services and Health and Human Services officials met with the committee and laid out a number of different sized facilities that would offer other services as well as replace the SPU which houses those who are a danger to themselves and others along with civilly committed patients who are not guilty by reason of insanity, deemed not competent to stand trial and mentally ill inmates.
One proposal called for a 60-bed facility to house patients for multiple programs.
After the committee’s vote on Feltes proposal, Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Myers said the 60 bed facility could house between 20 and 25 patients from the SPU, and the same number of forensic patients in the hospital or hospital emergency rooms as well as the six or seven patients now in the designated receiving facility at the former Laconia State School.
“This (plan) certainly will add capacity,” he said, and provide some room for other uses like maybe the patients at the Laconia school or some from the state hospital.
“This is still in process and we have a ways to go,” Meyers noted, saying the budget has to be approved by the full Senate, and a committee of conference with the House before it goes to the governor.
As part of Feltes’s proposal, the children at the hospital would be moved into a separate facility. Meyers said negotiations for that facility are nearing conclusion.
The Senate Finance Committee also approved $6 million to renovate the children’s facility, and $5.5 million for fiscal 2020 in operating funds.
Committee member Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, asked Meyers how long the contract would be after spending $6 million to renovate the building that belongs to someone else.
Meyers said 10 years with one or two renewal options for the same time.
The committee also approved an additional $4 million to renovate the children’s unit at New Hampshire Hospital to create about 30 to 40 new beds for high intensity cases.
The committee voted unanimously to approve a Medicaid provider rate increase of 3.1 percent each fiscal year costing about $52 million.
That is a reduction from the House budget, which increased rates by 12 percent over the two years of the biennium saving about $50 million.
New Hampshire’s Medicaid provider reimbursement rates are some of the lowest in the country and have not increased for some time.
The low rates drive up the uncompensated care costs for hospitals, mental and community health centers and other providers because they are much lower than what it costs to provide the services.
The Senate Finance Committee added about $9 million for new child protection workers, supervisors and specialists reflecting the passage of Senate Bill 6, and nearly $20 million reflecting the passage of Senate Bill 14 which increases mental and behavior health services for children.
Senate Finance hopes to finish work on the budget by the end of the week.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com