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In Crisis

New psychiatric unit slated for Franklin Regional Hospital

After several attempts over the past few years, Franklin Regional Hospital plans to begin serving patients in need of acute psychiatric care in October. State officials hope the hospital’s 10-bed unit will shorten the list of patients spending days at a time in emergency rooms waiting for mental health services.

Officials developing the project will appear this morning before the state’s Health Services Planning and Review Board, where they’ll make the case that the relatively small construction investment by Franklin Regional Hospital makes the project exempt from the board’s normal lengthy review process.

The proposed 10-bed “designated receiving facility” would occupy the former obstetrics unit in the Franklin hospital. If all goes according to plan, it could be open Oct. 1. It will be the second such facility in the state; Elliot Hospital in Manchester has an 8-bed unit.

In the continuum of care, this type of facility is considered one step less restrictive than New Hampshire Hospital, because hospital-based programs often allow patients to stay closer to their community. A designated receiving facility is the only type of unit, other than the state hospital, that can accept patients who are being committed against their will.

Officials at LRGH, which operates the Franklin hospital and Lakes Region General Hospital in Laconia, have been trying for several years to bring inpatient care to the region, said Ellen Wolff, the chief nursing officer.

In both 2007 and 2010, plans were abandoned because it would have been too costly to the hospital, she said.

Converting the former obstetrics wing for its new use is expected to cost about $780,000, mostly for security features, accessible bathrooms and specially designed furniture, Wolff said.

When it’s open, the wing will employ the equivalent of 24 full-time hospital staff members; physician support will be provided by Genesis Behavioral Health, she said.

Nearly $5 million is in the state budget for the facility for the next two years, part of the $28 million Gov. Maggie Hassan allotted for improving the state’s mental health system, which was deemed as “in crisis” by federal officials in 2011.

In 1998, there were 101 beds for involuntary admissions at community hospitals; the opening of the Franklin unit will bring the current total to 18. A 10-year plan written in 2008 by mental health advocates advised bringing the number of these beds up to at least 48.

Since 1990, the number of state hospital beds for adults and children has dropped from 316 to 130. In that same time period, the number of mental health beds in community hospitals has gone from 236 to 150, and six hospitals have closed their psychiatric wings altogether, according to the New Hampshire Hospital Association.

On Monday, 22 adults and two children were waiting for beds at the state hospital, said Jay Couture, president of the state Community Behavioral Health Association. Those numbers are down significantly from February, when a record 44 people, 18 of them children, waited in local emergency rooms for psychiatric care.

The state also plans to open a second acute psychiatric residential treatment program, like Manchester’s Cypress Center, this winter. That facility could have as many as 16 beds at a location to be determined through a request-for-proposal process this fall, said Erik Riera, administrator of the state Bureau of Behavioral Health.

“The goal is to get it down so nobody has to wait if they need inpatient care,” he said.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or
spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

10 beds will probably be filled the first day it opens. Why not open up the factory on Pleasant St. in Concord again? That way they could treat all that need it.

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