The $15.1 million does not include salaries or other operating costs. (Annmarie Timmins | New Hampshire Bulletin)
This story was updated Oct. 22, 2021 at 3:30 p.m. after the Executive Council agenda was published.
The Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee gave Gov. Chris Sununu and the Department of Health and Human Services the go-ahead Friday to use $15.1 million in federal money to purchase 111-bed Hampstead Hospital to serve as a children’s inpatient psychiatric facility. The Executive Council will take up the same request Wednesday.
Sununu and Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette announced the planned purchase last week. Once the hospital and the state complete negotiations, a contract to buy the facility will need approval of the fiscal committee and the Executive Council.
Sen. Chuck Morse, a Salem Republican, made such a strong case for the purchase that Rep. Peter Leishman, a Peterborough Democrat, went from no to yes, making the vote 10-0.
“As a senator, when I get these phone calls (that) someone’s in a hospital for 12 days, and the mother is sitting right there alongside the child, we need more,” Morse said. “We know that, and this was a good solution. I think we can do some great things there.”
Health and Human Services has been contracting with Hampstead Hospital throughout the pandemic to address a surge in child mental health cases. But even that partnership hasn’t kept up with demand; many times there are 20 to 30 kids waiting in hospital emergency rooms for a bed. Friday there were 18.
In addition to the hospital, the purchase will include 100 acres surrounding the property, space Shibinette has said would allow the state to create a “center of excellence” that may also include treatment for people ages 18-25, who are now treated in adult units.
Committee members asked Shibinette how she will tackle the workforce shortage that has allowed the hospital to staff only about 45 of its 111 beds. Shibinette said the state will keep on existing employees and contract with a third party to recruit staff.
Rep. Jess Edwards, an Auburn Republican, asked about lost tax revenue, which Morse said is about $150,000 a year, if the currently private hospital becomes a state property. Morse said that as the state has done in similar situations, it can explore payments in lieu of taxes.
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