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Local News

DHHS Wants to Use $15 Million in Federal Aid for Second Psychiatric Hospital

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by Annmarie Timmins, New Hampshire Bulletin

The Department of Health of Human Services is seeking to invest $15 million in federal pandemic money in a second behavioral health hospital, this one a 120-bed facility in southern New Hampshire. 

Just over a year ago, the department used $15 million in federal money to buy Hampstead Hospital, a behavioral health hospital for children 3 to 18.

Wednesday, the department is expected to ask the Executive Council to approve its request to provide $15 million to SolutionHealth toward its construction costs of a $55 million to $60 million hospital in a yet-to-be identified location. The department said only that it will be in southern New Hampshire. SolutionHealth owns Elliot Hospital in Manchester and Southern New Hampshire Medical Center in Nashua.

In its request to the council, the department said it had tried to expand inpatient behavioral health treatment capacity in 2021 by offering the state’s hospitals $200,000 in federal pandemic assistance for each behavioral health they provided. “Due to limited interest from hospitals, no awards had been made,” the department’s interim commissioner, Lori Weaver, wrote in her request to the council.

The need for more beds continues. As of Friday, the most recent date available, 30 adults and four children were waiting for admission to a psychiatric facility, according to the department’s tracker.

Last month, Gov. Chris Sununu proposed his own approach to expanding the number of inpatient beds by requiring all hospitals to provide the state two to nine beds, depending on their size, to operate in New Hampshire. That proposal, included in Sununu’s budget, is getting significant pushback from hospitals. 

According to the information the department provided to councilors, the southern New Hampshire hospital would open in 2024. The $55 million to $60 million estimate does not include real estate costs. 

While the proposed hospital will have 120 beds, only 81 of them would be new and expand capacity in New Hampshire, according to the department. Some beds located elsewhere in the state are expected to be moved to the new facility.

There would be 72 “designated receiving facility” beds for people 18 and older who need immediate hospitalization on a voluntary or involuntary basis. The department said that will increase the existing number by 44. 

The new facility would add 24 beds for children and adolescents under 17 for inpatient treatment. All those beds would be in addition to what Hampstead Hospital offers. There would also be a 24-bed geriatric psychiatric unit for people who are over 55 who are admitted on voluntary or an involuntary basis. Thirteen of them would be new beds for the state.

This is the second time the department has sought approval for the proposed 120-bed hospital. In September 2022, the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee approved its request, but it was not brought before the Executive Council, which also must approve it, until this week. 

This story was written by Annmarie Timmins, Senior Reporter at the New Hampshire Bulletin, where this story first appeared.

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