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Uncertainty Around GOP Health Plan Looms Large at N.H. Drug Treatment Center

Casey McDermott, NHPR
Serenity Place CEO Stephanie Bergeron speaks with Sen. Maggie Hassan during a tour of the treatment center's offices in the old Manchester police station on Monday.

In their new headquarters inside what used to be Manchester’s police station, the staff at Serenity Place pack three or four workspaces into a single office, with more desks lining some of the hallways. Old police interrogation rooms have been converted to counseling spaces.

Serenity Place CEO Stephanie Bergeron said her team is already stretched thin trying to respond to the growing need for substance abuse treatment — and any changes in funding would have serious consequences for the health of both the facility and the people it helps.

“To have the looming threat of that being eliminated or a piece of that being extracted from our community is very disheartening, and a lot of us lose sleep over it — just because we’ve made so much progress,” Bergeron said. “There’s so much more to do.”

Sen. Maggie Hassan toured Serenity Place Monday as part of an effort to call attention to the potential consequences that declining health funding might have on local substance use treatment providers. Right now, it's unclear what the future of Medicaid will look like under the Republican health plan — but Hassan, after the tour, said she’s particularly concerned about reports that the bill would roll back expanded Medicaid coverage.

"Without Medicaid expansion, it’s not clear whether Serenity Place in its current form can survive," Hassan said, "and that would mean less treatment for people who desperately need it."

Bergeron said about 90 percent of Serenity Place’s patient population is on Medicaid, and those individuals rely on that coverage not just for drug treatment but also for things like mental health counseling and basic healthcare.

“A lot of the outpatient kind of crisis work that we do, helping people kind of remove the barriers and start the steps to their next steps, is really done through Medicaid expansion,” Bergeron said. “But also the treatment that we provide is billable through Medicaid. So it helps individuals and families get the services that they need, especially in the middle of the crisis we’re in now, which is really a public health crisis.”

Hassan said she has yet to see any iteration of the Senate’s version of the health bill, but she joined fellow Democrats in asking Republicans for a meeting of all senators to discuss what’s on the table.

“In New Hampshire, you have to have a hearing before you can have a vote on a new law,” Hassan said after touring Serenity Place Monday morning. “And what we’re concerned about is we’re hearing we may not see this secret bill until they put it on the floor for a final vote, and we will have had no time to study it — get feedback from our constituents, from medical providers, from people who need medical treatment, from the public — before we have to vote on it.” 

Casey McDermott is a senior news editor at New Hampshire Public Radio. Throughout her time as an NHPR reporter and editor, she has worked with colleagues across the newsroom to deepen the station’s accountability coverage, data journalism and audience engagement across platforms.

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