The Department of Health and Human Services hopes its investment in a new behavioral health hospital will reduce the number of people waiting in emergency rooms for care. (Screenshot)
The Department of Health and Human Services has received initial approval to provide SolutionHealth, which owns Elliot Hospital in Manchester, $15 million in federal money to build a new behavioral health hospital. The facility would add more than 100 new treatment beds for children and adults struggling with mental illness and substance misuse.
This is the second significant investment the state has made in expanding mental health treatment during the pandemic, following the purchase of Hampstead Hospital this year to expand treatment to children and older youth.
Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette has sounded the alarm throughout the pandemic about a dire shortage of treatment beds. On Friday, 35 adults were waiting for inpatient behavioral health care, all but two of them in hospital emergency rooms. Those numbers have been consistent throughout the pandemic.
The proposal, which would provide SolutionHealth $15 million toward construction costs, still needs approval from the Executive Council – and a signed deal between hospital and state. Earlier this year, the department withdrew a request to provide HCA Healthcare and Portsmouth Regional Hospital $15 million to build a new hospital in the Seacoast after failing to reach an agreement.
Deputy Commissioner Lori Weaver told the committee Friday that SolutionHealth is ready to move forward on a $50 to $55 million hospital located in south-central New Hampshire. The department told the fiscal committee in a letter that the hospital is expected to open in 2024.
According to information the department provided the committee, the new hospital would have 40 beds for adults, 25 of them for people who are involuntarily committed because they are deemed a danger to themselves or others. There would also be 40 beds for children and adolescents, 15 of them for children who have a developmental disability or autism. An additional 25 beds would be set aside for substance misuse treatment, and there would be a 25-bed geriatric psychiatric unit.
In exchange for the $15 million, SolutionHealth would guarantee a so-far undetermined number of those beds be available for the state for 10 to 12 years.
Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, a Nashua Democrat who sits on the fiscal committee, asked department staff to confirm Friday that new beds would not replace SolutionHealth’s existing beds at Elliot Hospital. Timothy Whitman, chief operating officer at New Hampshire Hospital, said that was his understanding.
The department has been trying for months to persuade the state’s hospitals to increase their ability to admit and treat people waiting days or longer in emergency rooms for inpatient mental health treatment, offering them $200,000 a year for each psychiatric bed they provided.
The state had hoped to add 20 beds to the 218 it now has, 140 of which are at New Hampshire Hospital and 78 at six other hospitals. It was unable to do so. The department declined to say why when asked by the Bulletin ahead of Friday’s meeting.
But the inability to entice enough hospitals to add beds has left the department with $2 million for another initiative. It hopes to use that money to add 24 beds at long-term care facilities for patients whose mental health has been stabilized but who need ongoing medical care. The fiscal committee approved that request Friday.
Currently, the state contracts with 10 nursing and five assisted living facilities to provide 36 beds for those patients in the North Country, Seacoast, Lakes Region, and western and Central New Hampshire. Under those contracts, the state pays facilities $45,000 annually for each bed to cover the cost of training and staffing as well as $290 per day for patient care.
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