State seeks approval to use $15.1 million in federal funds to purchase Hampstead Hospital

By: - October 19, 2021 5:31 pm
Hampstead Hospital Exterior

Throughout the pandemic, Hampstead Hospital has had enough staff to open fewer than 40 of its 111 inpatient beds. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)

The state hopes to use $15.1 million in federal funds to purchase Hampstead Hospital, a 111-bed inpatient psychiatric facility it has been using during the pandemic to treat children in mental health crisis. 

Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette has submitted the request to the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee, but it is unclear if it will be taken up at its meeting Friday or at a subsequent meeting. The $15.1 million price tag will include the hospital and nearly 100 acres, most of which is undeveloped. It does not include operating costs.

The state has been investing heavily in mental health services in the last year, largely with federal pandemic aid. But those investments have struggled to keep pace with a surge in child mental health needs; Tuesday there were 24 children waiting in emergency rooms for a treatment bed to open. That number has hit 50 this year and typically hovers between 20 and 35.

While Hampstead is licensed for 111 beds, it has been able to staff only about 40 during the pandemic due to workforce shortages. Shibinette said the state will ask all current employees to remain and is working on hiring a recruiting firm to bring more health care workers into the state. 

Shibinette and Gov. Chris Sununu announced last week the state was in the final stages of negotiating the purchase of the hospital but declined to share the price before reaching an agreement. The news was welcomed by the state’s community mental health centers and NAMI NH.

Shibinette and Sununu said then the hospital will allow the state to create a child psychiatric care center for children up to age 18 and possibly young adults ages 18 to 25, including those who are being treated outside New Hampshire at state expense. 

“When care is provided to children in-state, it can make it easier to transition them to community-based services upon discharge to continue their care,” she wrote. 

Having a hospital for children and young adults will also free up space at the state hospital to care for adult patients and provide them transitional housing so they can more quickly return to their communities safely. 

As the state moves to buy Hampstead Hospital, it is also working on closing the 144-bed Sununu Youth Services Center, where court-involved children ages 13 to 17 are detained and treated. A report released earlier this month recommended building a new 18-bed “home” to replace what is now a prison setting. 

Sununu and Shibinette said during last week’s announcement that the state may expand the current hospital as it expands treatment. Asked Tuesday if the grounds may provide a location for that 18-bed home, Health and Human Services spokesman Jake Leon said the department is awaiting recommendations from a legislative committee working on a closure and replacement plan. “All sites that can provide the capacity and therapeutic needs of a secure youth residential facility would be considered,” he wrote.

Rep. Jess Edwards, an Auburn Republican and a member of that committee, said the group had not discussed Hampstead Hospital as a possible location, but it has not met since Sununu and Shibinette announced plans to buy it. 

The property is assessed at about $7.6 million, according to Hampstead’s 2019 property assessments, the most recent available. That value is not indicative of the market value, however, and Shibinette’s request to the fiscal committee said $15.1 million is significantly lower than the property’s appraised value in 2016, which she did not include, and what it would likely be today with the sharp increase in property values.

Shibinette said in her request to the fiscal committee that the department will present a funding request separately for operating costs. 

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.