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Fiscal committee backs partnership with a for-profit hospital on Epping mental health facility

New Hampshire State House
Dan Tuohy
New Hampshire State House

The Legislature’s Fiscal Committee has approved spending $15 million of federal money to help Portsmouth Hospital build a new behavioral health hospital in Epping. The 96-bed in-patient facility would include beds for voluntary and involuntary patients, youth beds, and an eating disorder clinic.

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Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette told lawmakers she understood this proposal – and the state partnering with a subsidiary of the for-profit HCA Healthcare – was novel, but said it was critical to solving long-standing problems.

“It’s a one-time payment for an infrastructure build; and investing in the infrastructure of our mental health system,” Shibinette explained. “I understand that this is coming fast. For ten years we’ve had an ER crisis, and we are basically fixing it in two,”

The new hospital will cost $45 million. Under the deal, which must also win approval from the Executive Council, the state will have a 7-year contract with the new facility.

The proposal is the state’s latest effort to bolster its beleaguered mental health system.

Last fall, Gov. Chris Sununu announced the state would spend $15 million in federal aid to buy Hampstead Hospital, which is licensed at 111 beds but is operating at fewer than 40 due to staffing problems.

In a separate vote Friday, the Fiscal Committee approved spending $2.2 million to form a so-called “strike team,” made up of workers from a staffing agency, to open up more beds at Hampstead.

That new investment comes as the purchase of the hospital, which was supposed to be completed by the end of 2021, remains under negotiation.

A new state forensic psychiatric hospital also remains in the works. The current state budget earmarked $30 million to build a facility in Concord, on the grounds of the state hospital.

The new facility, which is supposed to be up and running by the end of 2023, would replace the secure psychiatric unit located at the state prison.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.
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