State looks out of state for children’s mental health care

    BRIEF

    Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette told a Senate committee Tuesday that the state is talking with three hospitals bordering New Hampshire about providing in-patient beds for children now waiting in emergency rooms for psychiatric care. (Dave Cummings photo)

    With approximately 30 children waiting each day in emergency rooms for psychiatric care, the state is talking with three out-of-state hospitals about providing 10 to 15 in-patient beds for their mental health needs.

    Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette has not named the hospitals but told the Senate Health and Human Services Committee Tuesday that they are in states bordering New Hampshire. 

    DHHS asked the joint legislative Fiscal Committee Tuesday for approval to use $13.1 million from the American Rescue Plan Fund to pay for children’s care that Medicaid does not cover. They money will also allow the state to expand adult mental health services. The committee approved the request 10-0.

    Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, a Nashua Democrat and member of the Fiscal Committee, said after the meeting Tuesday that she’d rather see the state invest in care that could prevent hospitalization. 

    “If you refuse to improve your community health system and crisis intervention, I guess it is (a step in the right direction),” she said. “But it does seem like a more efficient use of the dollars and maybe with better outcomes to provide care in the community than at the most restrictive and expensive point.”

    The state currently relies on Hampstead Hospital to provide the only in-patient psychiatric care for children in the state, and one of its units is closed due to staff shortages. Tuesday evening, there were 33 children waiting for one of Hampstead Hospital’s 16 beds to open up, according to DHHS.

    Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, a Concord Democrat on the Fiscal Committee, asked DHHS staff at the meeting whether families could refuse a placement outside the state. Wallner said she was told they would have that option.

    In addition to expanded children’s services, the committee also approved DHHS’s request to use federal money to expand care for adults. Local hospitals have agreed to or expressed interest in providing 25 to 30 “designated receiving facility” beds, which serve as satellite sites for the state hospital. 

    Shibinette said nursing homes and assisted living sites will provide about 25 beds for elderly residents who no longer need state hospital level care but are not able to live without assistance.

    Similarly, the department will use some of the money to expand its transitional housing for other adults who could leave the hospital if they had transitional housing but are not eligible for nursing home care. Shibinette told the Senate Health and Human Services Committee that her office is working with the state’s 10 community mental health centers to add an additional 60 transitional housing beds in their regions as well. 

    The federal money has been a game changer for the state’s implementation of its 10-year mental health plan. The $200,000 DHHS is now offering local hospitals annually for each bed they create is twice the rate it has offered previously. Hospitals have said they could not afford to partner with the state at those rates, but can do so now.