Above, Gov. Chris Sununu shakes hands with students from Newmarket Elementary School at the Executive Council meeting on Wednesday. PAULA TRACY photo
By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – With local police responding to 61 calls for service from June 2022 through last week to the new Hampstead Hospital for children with behavioral problems and another 73 calls to state police since Jan. 1, 2022, Republican Executive Councilor Janet Stevens of Rye questioned the Wellpath contract there and whether it will be renewed when it comes up in a few months.
Stevens said Hampstead has five police officers and when two are tied up at the hospital, there are none on patrol in Hampstead.
Most of the calls to state police were in reference to assaults, sexual assaults, unruly children and riots, Stevens said. Troopers have been asked to restrain children so they could be medicated, Stevens said.
Wellpath has a two-year $50.2 million contract with the state.
Gov. Chris Sununu at first was reluctant to take up the discussion at Wednesday’s Governor and Executive Council meeting because the topic was not an agenda item and “we don’t have a (renewal) contract yet. There is nothing to do.”
Stevens said: “This needs to be a priority, governor.”
Sununu said: “And it is going to be put out to bid.”
Lori Weaver, commissioner of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said the department has been actively engaged and is monitoring the situation at Hampstead Hospital.
Weaver said she made changes on the leadership side and their staff levels will soon be at 100 percent.
“We’re on it,” Weaver said.
Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington of Concord, a Democrat who is running for governor, said she had to take objection to the governor not wanting to take up off-item agendas.
Warmington said the problem could have been potentially worse because the number of patients there has remained very low in large part due to lack of staffing. According to the state’s website there were 34 children in the hospital and 14 waiting for admission as of Wednesday.
Stevens said it is absolutely inappropriate to place an armed officer in the facility and noted the potential for safety problems for the patients, staff and law enforcement. Stevens said Hampstead Police are on board and a team player.
In January, 2022 the state agreed to purchase the 111-bed Hampstead Hospital in Hampstead to care for children, which will help to alleviate the state’s emergency room boarding crisis.
The state has had a hard time finding enough psychiatric hospital beds for both adults and children. They have been housed in hospital emergency rooms until a bed is found.
It has been the subject of litigation, with the state needing to find a solution by court order.
Built in 1974 on 100 acres of woodlands and rolling fields, Hampstead Hospital was the first private psychiatric hospital licensed by the state, according to its website.
The asset purchase agreement was for $13 million purchased with 100 percent federal funds.
The state floated the idea to buy the private hospital in 2022 with members of the Board of Selectmen told that the state would make payments in lieu of taxes if they purchased the facility.
Both Stevens and Warmington said they have recently met with parents who are in desperate need of help with placement, with some individuals living at home while their parents age and others in hospital emergency rooms waiting for placement.
Warmington said she met with a mother in tears last week about the lack of services available in the state. She said New Hampshire has too many patients living out of state and making it very difficult for families to visit with them.
She noted there has been recent concern with out of state placements and the care provided and said the state needs to provide this care in New Hampshire.
“The need to move forward with this makes sense,” Warmington said.
LACONIA STATE SCHOOL SALE EXPECTS TO CLOSE AFTER OCT. 31
Commissioner of Administrative Services Charlie Arlinghaus said the process of moving toward the sale of the former Laconia State School property will not happen in October but is on a path to close soon with developers.
BETSY PAINE GETS THE NOD AS JUDGE
On a 4-1 vote Elizabeth “Betsy” Paine of Sandwich was confirmed as justice to the New Hampshire Circuit Court.
Casting the lone dissenting vote was Republican Executive Councilor David Wheeler of Milford.
Executive Councilor Joe Kenney, R-Wakefield, said Paine comes from a “really exceptional family” including her father who was also a judge.
He said she brings a wealth of experience and said he believes she will do a great job on the circuit court system. Her term runs until she turns 70.
Marc M.H. Lachance of Gilmanton resigned from the Fish and Game Commission.
ADDED CAPACITY FOR LONG-TERM HOUSING FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES
A number of contracts which will increase housing capacity for about 40 people with mental health disabilities across the state were unanimously approved by the council Wednesday.
Weaver said the move will, in time, reduce costs to the state by $25 million, where it is now sending these individuals out of state for long-term care.
MORE FUNDS FOR CHILD CARE
About $3.6 million in federal funds to improve child care in the state was approved by the Executive Council Wednesday.
Karen Hebert, of the Health and Human Services Bureau of Economic Stability, called it a “fabulous opportunity.”
The contract was passed on a 4-1 vote with Councilor Wheeler casting the dissenting vote.
The passage of the contract opens a door for childcare providers to apply and Hebert assured “there will be a lot of outreach that will happen with this item.”
The contract said “funds will offer an opportunity to reduce operating costs, and thereby enable providers to further invest in professional child care workforce retention and recruitment efforts.”
Examples of operating expenses eligible for reimbursement include mortgages or lease payments, maintenance and repairs, expansion of outdoor space, and computer programs.
WHITE CANE AND AND SEEING EYE DOG AWARENESS MONTH
The council meeting started by going to the dogs Wednesday when Sununu announced October as White Cane and Seeing Eye Dog Users Month.
About a dozen working dogs were in attendance and wagging tails and there were no fights as they stood with the council and governor for the proclamation and photo.
Randy Pierce, who wrote the book “See You At The Summit” about summiting all 48 of the state’s highest peaks in winter, gave the governor a copy of his book and noted that when he lost his sight he wrongly thought the meaningful, contributing portion of his life was over.