Council OKs New Contract for Hampstead Hospital, OKs More Crop Loss Funds To Farmers

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Paula Tracy photo

Smokey the Bear was spotted Wednesday at the Governor and Executive Council Meeting.


CONCORD – Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital of Lebanon will take over operating the new Hampstead Hospital for children with mental health needs in June from Wellpath and the Executive Council approved more funding for farmers who experienced crop loss and extended funding to Community Action Programs across the state as part of the federal funds.

The council also tabled contracts for tourism photography citing concerns for the high costs, had a visit from Smokey Bear, who is turning 80 who helped marked May as fire prevention month in this state, learned the state is withholding contract funding from Anthem for their lack of service for pharmacy benefits for the state retirees, and approved construction funding to help the Mark Stebbins Community Center in Manchester.

Also at Wednesday’s Executive Council meeting, they heard there is a lot more interest from developers considering the purchase of the state-owned former Laconia State School than there was two years ago when it first went on the market.

A deal of more than $20 million fell through last month.


A $9.5 million contract was approved to operate Hampstead Hospital with Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital in Lebanon through June, 2026.

The contract with Wellpath is expiring at the end of June. 

Lori Weaver, commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, said the state put out a request for proposals and “Dartmouth was the high scorer.”

She noted that the goal is that all 172 staff currently working at Hampstead will continue to stay there and will become state employees “and we are happy to have them,” Weaver said.

A lack of staff has made it hard for the state to fully staff the 74-bed facility. Currently she said the census there is at 37 with one person on a wait list.

Safety at the facility and issues with multiple calls for local police to help quell unrest there has been a concern in the past few months.

She said additional contracts to run the facility, operational contracts are forthcoming and this contract is about clinical staff. 

Weaver said the state has been working with the town on safety. 

Stevens said Justin Looser, a longtime Seacoast mental health professional at HCA New Hampshire took the helm at Hampstead in January and is doing “an amazing job” and that he planned to address at a public forum Wednesday night.


The council also voted to approve $1 million in funding to assist in the building of the Mark Stebbins Community Center in Manchester’s West Side.

The non-profit center will work to provide affordable, walkable childcare, after-school care, access to affordable health care, food access, community meeting space, and additional support in the Queen City.

Non-profit partners currently involved in the planning are Boys & Girls Club of Manchester; Amoskeag Health; Manchester Housing & Redevelopment Authority.

Mark Stebbins, a Manchester native, served as Chairman and CEO of PROCON, a New Hampshire-based design and construction firm. Throughout his life and career, Mark was devoted to giving back to the Manchester community through his philanthropic work.

Gov. Chris Sununu praised the passage of the funding in a statement he issued after the vote.

“By breaking down silos and bringing nonprofits together under one roof, the Mark Stebbins Community Center carries on the philanthropic legacy of Mark Stebbins and represents the very best of New Hampshire,” he said. “I applaud the non-profit partners making this innovative vision a reality to better serve Manchester’s West Side. It’s all about the kids!”

The funds will serve to help with construction, which is anticipated to begin in the Spring of 2025.

Manchester Mayor Jay Ruais said “Today marks a significant milestone for our city as we express profound gratitude to Governor Sununu and the Executive Council for their unwavering support for the Mark Stebbins Community Center with the recent approval of $1,000,000 to fund this project…This vital investment will support this important center for our families and children of our beloved West Side. With the collaboration of 30 nonprofit organizations, we are poised to create a transformative space, empowering our residents to thrive and flourish.”


The former Laconia State School property is back on the market after a deal fell through with Legacy at Laconia LLC to build a residential, commercial and retail facility on the 220 acres April 23.

Charlie Arlinghaus, commissioner of the state Department of Administrative Services said a lot of people have been interested and more than two years ago when it first went up for sale.

There is no current state deadline for requests for proposals he said but it won’t be a drawn-out affair.

The council was told the state is not currently planning to sue Legacy for failure to close though Executive Councilor Ted Gatsas, R-Manchester, said he believes they violated a performance aspect to the purchase and sales agreement signed with the state.

Sununu questioned what the state would get out of a lawsuit.


After months of troubles with a contract with the insurance company Anthem over its coverage of pharmacy benefits for state retirees, the council learned that the state is no longer paying the company monthly and holding it to performance guarantees.

Councilors Cinde Warmington, D-Concord, and Janet Stevens, R-Rye, praised the state for enforcing those aspects of the contract and heard that the department is seeing improvements in the situation with retirees getting their medicine.

Councilors were told the Department of Justice is also looking into the matter.

Cassie Keefe, deputy commissioner for the state Department of Administrative Services said the state stopped making monthly payments to Anthem on this contract and has collected $1.4 million in performance guarantees so far.

The state is looking at first quarter performance guarantees now, Keefe said and is also working with Anthem to select an auditor to audit their system to see if there is a systemic failure and what needs to be fixed.

She said there are signs that things are getting better and calls from retirees have dropped to about eight to 10 a week as opposed to 40 to 50 earlier this year.


The council approved an additional $3.5 million more for fish hatcheries using federal funds. With the state receiving an estimated $1.4 billion from anglers annually, fishing is a revenue generating enterprise, Councilor Stevens said. 

The state has earmarked $55 million in federal ARPA funds to improve the hatcheries and increase environmental protection at New Hampton, Milford, Warren, Twin Mountain, New Durham, and Berlin.  


The council decided to table five contracts for photography of the state which would have been paid for by federal American Rescue Plan Act noting that the cost seemed “outrageously expensive,” the governor said.

The contracts now tabled are for $1,750,000 with Blaze Partners LLC of Falmouth Maine, $1,278,000 with Brian Nevins Photography of Hampton, $860,000 for Portland Post-Production LLC, $1,096,156 with Walk Tall Inc. d/b/a Dennis Walsh Photography of Yarmouth, Maine and $860,000 with Warden Co. LLC of Plymouth for “regional/seasonal asset capture services.”

Taylor Caswell, commissioner of the Department of Business and Economic Affairs, said it could be tabled but time is running out to use the ARPA funds and use of these funds were narrowly crafted by the federal government.

“I have an iPhone,” said the governor, who is not seeking re-election and has not said what his next job might be. “I’m like 20 bucks,” he joked.

Councilor Warmington, a Democrat who is running for governor, was among a number of councilors who said the requests seem high for tourism photography.

Caswell said the money is to be distributed to the seven tourism regions of the state and the plan is to split them up with multiple contractors.

While Executive Councilors Joe Kenney of Wakefield, and David Wheeler of Milford, both Republicans also voiced concern that they were high, they agreed to table rather than kill the measure, for now.


The council approved $3 million in federal ARPA grants for the community center investment programs that provide funding to centers in a number of communities, including Newport.

The money will enable investments in capital infrastructure and costs as the CAP agencies adapt to the effects of the COVID-19 crisis and continue to offer essential services.

The approval is contingent on legislative fiscal committee approval.

Warmington said she was thrilled to see the item on the agenda and said “these are really good projects going up all around the state and I am happy to support them.”

Kenney said he began to work with Newport when it was in his district and called the money “a win for that community.”


Warmington asked the Commissioner of Agriculture Markets and Food to provide an update on his creation of a crop loss program which has largely been criticized by farmers across the state who said it is set up to penalize some for working creatively to shore up losses from two 2023 weather events that devastated apple crops particularly.

With the final deadline to apply for $8 million in ARPA funds Wednesday, the state has paid out $1.6 million to 31 farms.

They approved $440,000 for five of those farms, Wednesday, but Warmington asked what the plan was to do with any remaining funding?

Commissioner Shawn Jasper said his plan was to talk to the governor but possibly recommend that the state expand the qualification to 75 percent.

The plan covers the cost of fruits and vegetables at wholesale price not retail, Warmington noted and said she would like to see an expansion of the criteria to allow more farmers to benefit.

“I think you are spot on,” Sununu said to Warmington.


Smokey Bear turns 80 this year and he came to the State House to help promote forest fire prevention month, as proclaimed by the governor. 

He did not speak but the governor used his well-known comment “Only you can prevent forest fires.”

“He looks great for 80,” said Sununu.

The state has 15 fire towers, about half of which are staffed on weekends for fire prevention education to hikers.

The council started the day with breakfast at NH’s Fire Standards and Training facility in Concord and visited a memorial for the fallen. Warmington said they were “reminded these people put their lives on the line.”


The governor has nominated three individuals to serve as justices of the New Hampshire Circuit Court. Michael Beausoleil of Bennington, John T. Katsirebas Jr. of Epsom and Jason R. L. Major of Concord were all nominated but a confirmation vote will be a few weeks following public hearings.

Each will serve a term until 70 years of age, if confirmed.

George Copadis was confirmed to another term as Commissioner of Labor.

Councilors Kenney and Warmington praised Copadis for his work in the past with Kenney saying he and his staff worked triple time to get benefits out to people during the pandemic.


Circuit Court judicial nominee Lindsey B. Courtney, who is currently executive director of the state Office of Professional Licensure and Certification was lauded for making the office more streamlined and efficient by those speaking at a public hearing on her nomination Wednesday before the Executive Council.

Henry Klementowicz, a civil rights lawyer from Portsmouth, said he spoke on behalf of himself and not his employer that the nomination would be strong one.

Lisa English, a judge, said Courtney is a sharp and careful writer, decisive and actively listens to other points of view.

Courtney’s nomination was not voted on after her hearing but may come up at the next council meeting. 

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