By GARRY RAYNO, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD — It may be September, but when it comes to the state helping construct a new behavioral health hospital, it may be Ground Hog Day all over again.
Earlier this year, the Department of Health and Human Services proposed helping Portsmouth Regional Hospital build a new facility in Epping with $15 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds, and Friday, the agency will propose spending the same amount of federal pandemic rescue money for a new facility in south central New Hampshire with SolutionHealth, a partnership of the Elliot and Southern New Hampshire hospitals.
The proposed hospital in Epping drew opposition from community members and some town officials who did not know about the proposal until it was reported in InDepthNH.org.
The plan also was opposed by a majority of Executive Councilors and was withdrawn by the agency and has not been put on the council’s agenda since March.
Several members of the council were not comfortable with the state picking a hospital without a proposal going to bid, nor entering into a public-private agreement that could compete against private organizations.
The latest proposal does not indicate where the $50 million to $55 million new facility would be located but does note, the 25 new beds would double the designated receiving facility beds at the Elliot, and the 12 new adult voluntary beds would triple Elliot’s existing capacity.
The proposal would also add 25 adolescent/child psychiatric unit beds, 15 child/adolescent developmental disability/autism unit beds, 25 detox and co-occurring disorder unit beds and 25 geriatric psychiatric unit beds, and other beds yet to be determined.
The facility would also offer out-patient behavioral health services, a substance use disorder medication assisted treatment center, and partial hospitalization for those services.
“Without this funding for capital expenditures to defray construction costs to meet pandemic behavioral health needs,” Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette wrote to the fiscal committee in a letter dated Aug. 16, “the State of New Hampshire would be severely limited in its ability to establish a long-term and sustainable solution to New Hampshire’s mental health crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Addressing mental health needs has been identified as one potential use of federal ARPA funds.
Shibinette said her agency entered into discussions with every hospital in the state to provide funding to expand the number of designated receiving facility beds, but to date there have been no awards due to limited interest.
She said her agency had conversations with hospitals seeking to identify willing partners to expand the behavioral health beds due to the growing need, but most were not able to make commitments given the pressures they are currently under with the pandemic.
“SolutionHealth is ready to make a capital investment to immediately address the behavioral health needs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Shibinette wrote. “If this request is approved, the Department anticipates the consolidated behavioral health hospital should be operational in Calendar Year 2024 and responsive to the ongoing and long-term behavioral health impacts of the pandemic.”
She said the new hospital will be a fully licensed and accredited behavioral health facility for inpatient and outpatient services.
The state recently purchased Hampstead Hospital to provide mental health services to children and young adults.
The state used ARPA money to purchase the facility and for the initial staffing of the hospital.
Shibinette notes if the federal money is no longer available, general fund money will not be used to help defray construction costs of the new facility.
If the fiscal committee votes to accept the federal money at its meeting Friday, the proposal would go before the Executive Council for approval.
Garry Rayno may be reached at email@example.com.