The state is seeking feedback from parents and community partners on its tentative plan to open a Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility (PRTF) for youth in a recently closed wing of the Sununu Youth Services Center.
Until December, the 30-bed wing was operated by the organization Granite Pathways to treat teens with substance use disorder, but the state canceled its contract after a series of non-fatal overdoses there.
An addiction treatment working group recently established by the Governor is now requesting feedback on its goal of upgrading the wing into a PRTF, a medicaid-eligible facility one step below a psychiatric hospital.
But some advocates are urging the state to proceed carefully.
Moira O’Neill, the director of the Office of the Child Advocate, warned that investing in a new facility could be counterproductive, given the consensus among clinicians and state officials that children are best served through home and community-based services.
O'Neill says these services are now expanding, largely due to the passage of Senate Bill 14 last year, which put $20 million towards improving mental health services, including establishing a mobile crisis service for young people, conducting regular needs assessments for children in residential care, and providing intensive therapy and support to children in their homes.
"We just need to be sure we assess further needs once that’s all in place before we commit our limited resources to anything that won’t be used optimally," O'Neill said.
Traci Fowler, of the New Hampshire Children’s Behavioral Health Collaborative, echoed O'Neill's caution.
“Senate Bill 14 is a critical investment in New Hampshire’s children, and we believe that allowing the state time to fully stand up community-based services will inform further needs across New Hampshire’s System of Care,” she said in a statement on Monday.
But Joseph Ribsam, the director of the Division of Children, Youth and Families, said the state didn't have the luxury to wait on establishing a PRTF.
He said it could treat a handful of young people immediately who are currently placed at PRTFs in other states because of the absence of a local facility.
“We want to make sure that our system has capacity to meet the needs of all kids in New Hampshire," he said. "We don’t want to have to send kids halfway across the country to get their needs met."
Currently, DCYF places around 70 young people in residential facilities out of state, largely for behavioral issues. Most of them are in Massachusetts, Maine, and Vermont, and would not meet the criteria for treatment at a PRTF.
But Ribsam says some of the most troubled young people in New Hampshire might benefit from an intensive psychiatric facility.
“Sometimes kids who have really really intense needs end up going to residential programs within the state, which are probably not intense enough to meet their needs,” he says. “Then they don’t do well and they get bounced around [from program to program].”
The state is seeking feedback on its tentative plan for a PRTF until February 24th.