State to purchase Hampstead Hospital to add inpatient psychiatric beds for children

  • Hampstead Hospital —Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 10/14/2021 5:06:12 PM

The state is in the final stages of purchasing Hampstead Hospital, a private inpatient psychiatric facility in southern New Hampshire, in the Department of Health and Human Services’ most recent effort to address the emergency room boarding crisis.

Gov. Chris Sununu announced Thursday the state will use federal money from state recovery funds to purchase a center for child behavioral health services. He said he expects the deal to be done by the end of the year.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure that all these families and individuals know there is a place to turn, there is a system that they can rely on when they need them,” he said.

Since 2019, The N.H. Department of Health has held a 5-year, $10 million contract with the hospital to serve as the inpatient psychiatric provider for children across the state.

During the pandemic, Hampstead Hospital has served an average of 40 children at a time, though the program has the capacity for more than 100 beds. Service was limited due to staffing shortages. Sununu said he hopes staff will be drawn to the facility once it proves itself as a center of excellence.

The coronavirus pandemic, which forced schools online and isolated many children from their friends, has created an unprecedented demand for pediatric mental health services. Earlier this week, local faction of the National Alliance on Mental Illness reported that 21 children were on the waiting list for an inpatient psychiatric bed.

“The number of children on the list has been an ongoing challenge and is a growing challenge that continues to stress hospital emergency rooms that are providing care for all their patients,” said Steve Ahnen, the President and CEO of the New Hampshire Hospital Association.

DHHS Commissioner Lori Shibinette said the purchase may be an opportunity to add beds that children can stay in for more than two weeks, which she said is an unmet need in the mental health system.

“We are not building a new program,” said Shibinette. “We are taking an existing program that is already committed to quality.”

State health officials have faced pressure to rapidly clear patients from emergency rooms after the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled in May that psychiatric patients being held involuntarily in emergency rooms must be given a chance to contest their detention within three days of their arrival.

Often, people deemed to be in crisis must wait days or weeks in the emergency rooms for a bed in one of the state’s psychiatric facilities to open up without an opportunity to challenge the involuntary admission.

The ruling has spurred a variety of dramatic changes to the mental health system including, paying nursing homes to house geriatric patients from the psychiatric hospital, allocating $100 million for community mental health resources, and investing in training programs to staff the available beds.

Sununu said many of the details of the plan are still being ironed out and will be announced as the deal comes to close.

Teddy Rosenbluth bio photo

Teddy Rosenbluth is a Report for America corps member covering health care issues for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. She has covered science and health care for Los Angeles Magazine, the Santa Monica Daily Press and UCLA's Daily Bruin, where she was a health editor and later magazine director. Her investigative reporting has brought her everywhere from the streets of Los Angeles to the hospitals of New Delhi. Her work garnered first place for Best Enterprise News Story from the California Journalism Awards, and she was a national finalist for the Society of Professional Journalists Best Magazine Article. She graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology.

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