Tax committee backs partnership with for-profit hospital on 96-bed facility in Epping

The Legislative Tax Committee has approved spending $15 million in federal funds to help Portsmouth Hospital build a new behavioral health hospital in Epping. The 96-bed inpatient 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 understands this proposal — and the state’s partnership with for-profit subsidiary HCA Healthcare — was novel, but said she was essential to resolving long-standing issues.

“It’s a one-time payment for building infrastructure; and investing in the infrastructure of our mental health system,” explained Shibinette. “I understand that it happens quickly. For ten years we had an ER crisis, and we’re basically sorting it out in half,”

The new hospital will cost $45 million. As part of the deal, which also needs Executive Council approval, 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 for 111 beds but operating at fewer than 40 due to staffing issues.

In a separate vote on Friday, the tax committee approved spending $2.2 million to form a so-called “strike team,” made up of employment agency workers, to open more beds in Hampstead.

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

A new state forensic psychiatric hospital is also under construction. The current state budget provided $30 million to build a facility in Concord, on the grounds of the state hospital.

The new facility, which is expected to be operational by the end of 2023, would replace the secure psychiatric unit located at the state prison.

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