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Executive Council approves state’s plan to buy Hampstead Hospital with federal money

Throughout the pandemic, Hampstead Hospital has been unable to use about 70 of its 111 beds because it has enough staff for only about 40.
Alli Fam / NHPR
Throughout the pandemic, Hampstead Hospital has been unable to use about 70 of its 111 beds because it has enough staff for only about 40.

The Executive Council gave the state Department of Health and Human Services its final approval Wednesday to use $15.1 million in federal money to buy Hampstead Hospital to provide minors inpatient psychiatric care.

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Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said the purchase, which includes nearly 100 acres, could be complete by the end of the year, but finding enough staff to use at least 80 to 90 beds will take months.

This article was first published in New Hampshire Bulletin.

The Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee, which also must sign off, gave its support Friday.

The vote came as 25 children are waiting in hospital emergency rooms for inpatient treatment beds, which have been too few to meet increased demand throughout the pandemic.

Hiring will be a challenge; the hospital has been using only 40 to 45 beds of the available 111 due to workforce shortages.

Shibinette told councilors she is talking with third parties to recruit staff to expand bed capacity but doesn’t expect to have a contract with staffing agencies before councilors for eight to 10 months. She said the state intends for the hospital’s leadership team to be state employees and to contract with the third party for remaining positions.

The $15.1 million does not include salaries or other operating costs.

The state has been contracting with Hampstead Hospital, which has been looking for a buyer, for inpatient care for children during the pandemic. Shibinette said keeping the hospital in the state’s control is critical to providing short- and long-term care for children, and possibly adults 18 to 25 with in-state care and support transitioning back into their communities, as called for in the state’s 10-year mental health plan.

Mental health advocates including NAMI NH and the community mental health centers have said they support the purchase and the state’s plans for the hospital.

Councilor Joe Kenney told Shibinette he would like to see regional inpatient treatment options across the state rather than a single option at Hampstead Hospital. Shibinette said the department has been investing in other community mental health services, including mobile crisis response teams in all areas of the state and more transitional apartments.

Gov. Chris Sununu, who joined Shibinette outside the hospital earlier this month to announce the planned purchase, said if the federal government denies the state’s request to use pandemic relief funds, a possibility he doesn’t foresee, the department will seek to use state funds to buy the hospital.

New Hampshire Bulletin is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Hampshire Bulletin maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Dana Wormald for questions: Follow New Hampshire Bulletin on Facebook and Twitter.

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