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State Making Mixed Progress Finding Applicants for Mental Health Reforms

Paige Sutherland/NHPR

Earlier this year, the legislature passed a package of reforms meant to expand access to mental health treatment. New Hampshire's Department of Health and Human Services is having mixed success soliciting vendors to oversee those changes — they’ve received multiple proposals for some projects but none for others.

One key part of the new legislation calls for the creation of a new designated receiving facility, where people experiencing mental health emergencies could stay while awaiting treatment at New Hampshire Hospital. The idea is to avoid the kind of boarding currently seen in hospital emergency rooms across the state.

No applications for that project came in before the deadline, so DHHS is keeping the window open.

DHHS Commissioner Jeff Meyers says the agency has heard from some potential applicants who said they needed more time.

"We are working as quickly as we can to move forward and implement all of these programs, including the new DRF beds, including new community residential beds, a new mobile crisis team, and so forth."

The department also extended its deadline for potential providers of new mobile crisis teams and apartments, “to give the opportunity for potential bidders to respond.”

Other projects spelled out as part of the recent mental health reforms passed by the Legislature have received multiple bidders. The department says it received four applications from organizations willing to conduct an evaluation of the state’s bed capacity and three additional applications from organizations willing to provide transitional community housing for people experiencing mental health issues.

The department is in the process of reviewing both sets of applications and hopes to present contracts to the executive council by the end of September.

While these and other reforms are important, Meyers said they are part of a larger set of changes needed to expand access to mental health treatment.

“Ultimately, I really believe we’re not going to be able to fully address those waiting in emergency departments until we add inpatient capacity at New Hampshire hospital,” Meyers said.

DHHS is also now required to present options to the Legislature and Gov. Chris Sununu for potentially moving children out of one wing of New Hampshire Hospital, in order to free up more space in that facility. 

Until 2010, children experiencing psychiatric emergencies received treatment in the Philbrook Center, a separate building adjacent to the main New Hampshire Hospital facility. After adolescent patients were moved into the main facility as a result of state budget cuts, Meyers said, “that resulted in the loss of 48 adult beds.”

“And that’s been a major contributing factor to why we are seeing the numbers of people waiting now in hospital emergency departments,” Meyers said. “The facility we currently maintain does not fulfill the need for inpatient capacity that is either recommended nationally or that we obviously need in New Hampshire.”

DHHS is supposed to present its new plan for moving children back to the main New Hampshire Hospital facility by Nov. 1. The agency is reviewing several options, including the possibility of refurbishing the same building where adolescent patients used to be housed. 

Casey is a Senior News Editor for NHPR. You can contact her with questions or feedback at
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