$1M deal with state adds involuntary psych beds at DHMC

By NORA DOYLE-BURR

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-23-2023 5:01 PM

LEBANON — The New Hampshire Executive Council on Wednesday approved a $1 million contract for five new involuntary psych beds at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, according to a news release from the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

The “designated receiving facility” beds, which under the contract are required to be available by the end of 2024 and remain open for at least six years, will be the first of their kind in the Upper Valley and are part of a broader effort to reduce the number of people waiting in emergency departments for mental health treatment elsewhere.

The new DHMC beds will be “designed to serve adult patients (involuntarily) admitted for care, a population that is among the most clinically and socially complex,” the release said.

The new beds are part of an ongoing expansion project at DHMC. As part of the project, DHMC is moving from two psychiatric units, one with nine beds and another with 11, to one 24-bed unit that includes the five specialized beds, Dr. William Torrey, chairman of the department of psychiatry at Dartmouth Health and the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, said in a Thursday email.

“We are very excited to partner with the state on this project, as it will allow Dartmouth Health to admit people quickly and provide care close to home for people whose level of illness requires involuntary care,” he said.

The five beds are expected to open in the summer or fall of next year. Additionally, a new 11-bed psychiatric wing in the emergency department at DHMC opened in September, Torrey noted.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the Executive Council approved a $15 million agreement with SolutionHealth, which includes Elliot Hospital in Manchester, for the construction of a new facility in southern New Hampshire with 120 beds, including: 72 for adults, 24 for geriatric patients with psychiatric issues, and 24 for children and adolescents. That facility will prioritize the care of involuntary patients while also serving voluntary patients, those with co-occurring issues, and those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the DHHS release said.

“These additional beds will go a long way to helping vulnerable citizens struggling with mental health,” New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, said in the release.

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Meanwhile, on Wednesday, 31 adults and six children were awaiting a mental health placement.

Roger Osmun, CEO of the Lebanon-based West Central Behavioral Health, said in a Wednesday email that recent efforts in New Hampshire, including those of his own community mental health center, have focused on preventing the need for inpatient treatment such as through mobile crisis services.

But despite those efforts, “there remained insufficient beds for those that needed them,” he said.

He expressed enthusiasm for the planned new beds, but said he still has concerns about how the state will address mental health needs amid a shortage of providers.

“It is hoped that the effort to ameliorate the inpatient bed crisis can also pivot to the statewide workforce challenge in both inpatient care and community mental health,” Osmun said. “Without a viable plan and proper funding, we may still face the workforce shortage in both areas.”

Steve Ahnen, CEO of the New Hampshire Hospital Association, shared similar concerns, noting that the state has been unable to meet the need for mental health treatment for more than a decade, leaving patients in acute distress waiting in emergency departments for the specialty care they need elsewhere.

“The contracts with SolutionHealth and Dartmouth Health are examples of hospitals’ commitment to continue to expand on these efforts on behalf of this vulnerable population to ensure they get the care they need, when they need it most,” he said in a statement Thursday. “Unfortunately, with more than 30 patients who are waiting today in hospital emergency departments to receive that care, there is still more work to be done.”

In Wednesday’s release, state officials acknowledged that adding inpatient beds is only part of the solution to improving mental health care.

The release pointed to the establishment of NH Rapid Response, which includes a centralized access point and mobile crisis response, as well transitional housing, supportive housing and peer-run step-up/step-down programs and the acquisition of Hampstead Hospital as examples of the state’s efforts to bolster mental health care.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

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