Advocates praise move to buy psychiatric hospital for kids
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Mental health advocates are praising the state’s decision to expand services for children by purchasing a private 111-bed psychiatric hospital.
An association that represents the state’s 10 nonprofit community mental health centers called the news “a major milestone in our system.”
“This is truly an investment in the future and will ensure that we strengthen our continuity of care,” said Brian Collins, president of the Community Behavioral Health Association.
The cost of buying Hampstead Hospital and other details haven’t been determined, but it will be covered by federal pandemic relief funds pending approval of the legislative fiscal committee and Executive Council. The facility has had contracts with the state during the coronavirus pandemic to treat children in mental health crises.
“Band-Aids and short-term solutions are not going to cut it,” Gov. Chris Sununu said while announcing Thursday that the state is in the final stages of the purchase.
In late March 2020, for the first time in eight years, no one in New Hampshire was waiting in a hospital emergency room for an inpatient psychiatric bed. But the numbers went back up during the pandemic. By May of this year, more than 80 mental health patients, including record numbers of children, were waiting on any given day.
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Ken Norton, executive director for the New Hampshire chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, praised the purchase, saying it would “ensure that New Hampshire families who have a child in mental health crisis will continue to have an option to receive inpatient care.”
The number of youth in need of inpatient psychiatric care has tripled since the start of the pandemic, and 18 young people were waiting in emergency rooms Thursday, according to the New Hampshire chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Legislation passed in 2016 required the state to begin building a comprehensive system of care for children’s behavioral health that emphasizes family-driven, community-based services coordinated across multiple systems, such as health care, child protection and juvenile justice.
In 2019, Democrats followed up with legislation to provide the funding and framework, though not all elements have been implemented.
“Despite the fact that the governor has yet to fully stand up the system of care, this purchase is hopefully a sign that he is beginning to recognize the severity of the issue,” said Sen. Becky Whitley, D-Hopkinton.