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With promises of safeguards, Nashville company with problematic history gets $52M contract to care for N.H. kids

A photo of Ted Gatsas and David Wheeler in profile, sitting in behind a cluttered table.
Dan Tuohy
/
NHPR
Councilors David Wheeler and Ted Gatsas examine documents during Wednesday's Executive Council meeting.

Despite prior allegations of poor quality of care and abuse by Wellpath Recovery Solutions in other states, the Executive Council is awarding the company $52 million to help staff a children’s psychiatric facility in New Hampshire, after top state officials assured councilors that safeguards will be put in place.

The Nashville-based provider of medical and other support services will help to quickly increase capacity at Hampstead Hospital, which the state is in the process of purchasing for $13 million. Health officials brought forward a no-bid contract with Wellpath last month, but a vote was delayed after councilors criticized their lack of time to review the contract and because of concerns over a litany of lawsuits filed against Wellpath for its work in other states inside psychiatric facilities and penitentiaries.

New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella presented the findings of a review of the litigation during Wednesday’s council meeting, in which his office said previous allegations against the company did not “raise any particular red flags,” and that providers of these types of services are the frequent target of lawsuits.

New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette told councilors they are layering in regulations as a part of the public-private partnership with Wellpath, including placing senior-level state employees in the facility and the formation of review teams ready to handle challenging cases.

“I want to take the precautions necessary to make sure that they are providing the quality that New Hampshire expects for our kids,” Shibinette told councilors.

The contract will be in place for two years, with an open bidding process expected for future services inside Hampstead Hospital.

Shibinette said expanding capacity within Hampstead, which is licensed for 111 beds but has only been serving around 45 children due to staffing limitations, is needed to avoid long wait times. In recent years, children and adults have often languished inside of emergency rooms across the state, waiting for a bed inside a dedicated facility to become available.

Many current employees of Hampstead are expected to be offered jobs following the state’s acquisition of the facility.

Executive Council Ted Gatsas asked Shibinette to inform the body if there are any quality or performance issues within the hospital involving Wellpath, including allegations of abuse.

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