The Bulletin Board

Contract approval doesn’t guarantee more beds for kids in psychiatric crisis

By: - December 9, 2021 1:25 pm
State House on a cloudy day

The Legislature reconvenes Jan. 5 to take up more than 900 bills. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

On paper, the state’s new contract with Brattleboro Retreat in Vermont has the potential to expand in-patient services for children in psychiatric crisis two ways: It provides up to 10 more beds and, unlike the state’s arrangement with Hampstead Hospital, this one does not exclude certain children, such as those whose behavior has led to criminal charges. 

But those gains are not guaranteed. 

Brattleboro Retreat must have an opening among its 60 beds. And while the contract doesn’t preemptively exclude certain children, Brattleboro Retreat may do so, said Katja Fox, director of the Health and Human Services Division for Behavioral Health.

“It will be on a case-by-case basis based on availability and other factors such as age and gender mix in their units,” she said in an email. “As of yesterday, Brattleboro was at 100 percent capacity, so this new agreement will not solve New Hampshire’s challenges.”

The Executive Council gave the department the final approval it needed Wednesday, a day when 13 children were waiting for one of Hampstead Hospital’s 16 beds to open up. Often, 15 to 25 children wait days or weeks in emergency rooms for a spot. 

Fox told the council there are two units at the Brattleboro Retreat, one for children ages 5 to 12 and another for children ages 13 to 17. That further limits access to a bed if the available bed and age of the child in need don’t align. 

Currently, the department must place children excluded from the Hampstead Hospital contract in facilities in neighboring states or elsewhere in the country. This includes children displaying sexualized behaviors and violent or aggressive behaviors that lead to criminal charges or serious bodily harm.

Fox said the state is optimistic its purchase of Hampstead Hospital, which is under way, will allow the department to provide all youth and children residential care in New Hampshire.

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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.