State Breaks Ground on $42M Adult Forensic Facility at New Hampshire Hospital in Concord

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Gov. Chris Sununu, center, is pictured with other officials in the ceremonial ground breaking of the new adult forensic hospital in Concord.


CONCORD – After working for more than two decades to see forensic patients moved out of the state prison into their own therapeutic hospital, state Rep. Peter B. Schmidt, D-Dover, came to Concord Thursday for the groundbreaking of a $42 million New Hampshire Forensic Hospital.

He said he wished the late House Majority Leader Renny Cushing, D-Hampton was able to see the day.

Schmidt said he, Cushing and Republican State Sen. Kevin Avard, R-Nashua had a pact to see a new, 24-bed forensic psychiatric hospital outside of the walls of the State Prison.

Cushing and advocates like Wanda Duryea and Beatrice Coulter had long argued that it was unconstitutional to house mentally ill people who hadn’t committed a crime at the Secure Psychiatric Unit at the state prison because they were too dangerous to themselves or others to be housed at New Hampshire Hospital.

The new forensic hospital is where, currently about 22 people who have not been convicted of a crime but have forensic needs will come when it is complete, to the relief of their families, state officials said.

“We said, ‘we can’t get this done on a committee of conference.’ There was nothing we could do about it,” but Schmidt said the three vowed to start “something that absolutely leads to this hospital being built.”

Cushing, he said, was very committed to getting this done and sadly died of cancer before seeing the fruits of his labor. Schmidt said these patients need to be treated as such and not as “inmates” at the Secure Psychiatric Unit at the state prison.

“We’ve got to get these people out,” of the prison, he said. “These people are being watched over by corrections officers and not by trained mental health” professionals.

Schmidt gave Gov. Chris Sununu credit for getting it done, with the help of federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars.

Duryea and Coulter, co-founders of Advocates for Ethical Mental Health Treatment, fought alongside politicians and families for almost seven years to help move this project along.

Duryea said she is worried that the new hospital will be too small to meet the need.

“I’m happy they are building a forensic hospital outside the prison but it’s not big enough and they will still send people back to the prison,” Duryea said.

Timothy Whitman, chief operations officer for New Hampshire Hospital, said there will be a new building with about 300,000 square feet on two stories for two units which will be on the grounds of the New Hampshire State Hospital off Clinton Street in Concord.

There will be 150 new state employees to operate the facility when it is done, likely in 2025, he said.
It is a two-year construction project which begins now with the general contractor PC Construction of Portland, Maine winning the contract.

Mike Leonard, vice president for PC, an employee owned business, joined with the governor and Commissioner of Health and Human Services Lori Weaver in breaking the ground for the project.

The therapeutic hospital will care for both male and female patients but all will be adults as the state recently opened Hampstead Hospital for children.

Sununu said the hospital will be built adjacent to New Hampshire Hospital and create a setting for skilled psychiatric treatment for forensic patients in a safe, secure, and therapeutic environment.

Sununu thanked the legislature for its bipartisan approach to solving the problem and said families of the patients in the prison will also benefit.

This will serve those families and “folks that just need the right and appropriate level of care that, to date, the state just hasn’t been able to provide.

“We have always said we are making a commitment to fulfill that promise. And finally, we are fulfilling it,” Sununu said.

Sununu said it will be a state-of-the-art-facility and is an extension of New Hampshire Hospital which is the centerpiece of acute care mental health in the state.

The central location in the state will allow “the ability to access providers, the ability to access individual nurses and mental health and social workers and all the different individuals that have to come together to make something like this work.

“We can build a building. We can provide money. We can have all the best policy. But as I always say, ‘if you do not have the people, it doesn’t work.’ We have amazing staff here,” Sununu said and acknowledged staffing “is always going to be a challenge.”

Weaver said this marks an exciting opportunity to build out the state’s 10 year-mental health plan.

“It’s important to remember that the people we serve are all part of someone’s family,” said Weaver. “The forensic hospital addresses a critical, unmet need in our state and for the first time in recent memory New Hampshire will have a facility dedicated to individuals living with a mental health condition or involved in the criminal justice system that have not been convicted of a crime.”

For her department “we take comfort that forensic patients will receive treatment with dignity and without a stigma. This is a historic day for New Hampshire and it has been a long time coming,” Weaver said.
“Today we celebrate a new vision for mental health care,” the commissioner said.

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