Children's Psychiatric Hospital Could Include Young Adults

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — As it moves to expand inpatient psychiatric treatment for children, New Hampshire also hopes to better serve young adults, Health Commissioner Lori Shibinette said Wednesday.

The state is in the final stages of buying Hampstead Hospital, a private, 111-bed facility that currently treats about 45 children. The goal is to double capacity for children, but officials also are exploring a unit dedicated to 18- to 25-year-olds “who often get swept into the adult system and maybe lack the maturity to be in the adult system,” Shibinette told the Executive Council.

That age range, referred to as “emerging adults” or “transition-age youth,” is a critical period because during that time, rates of mental health problems increase, conditions become more complex and the most serious disorders emerge. But this age group is also less likely to seek and receive help.

Over the last decades, many states have begun offering programs targeted to that population, but some worry the coronavirus pandemic has halted momentum at a time when demand for services is growing.

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, and by May of this year, more than 80 patients, including record numbers of children, were waiting on any given day.

On Tuesday, 25 adults and 21 children were waiting in emergency departments for psychiatric beds.

The Executive Council on Wednesday approved using $15 million in federal American Recovery Plan Act money to buy the hospital, but it will take six to nine months to expand the number of beds, Shibinette said. Hospital administrators will be state employees, and a third-party partner will provide clinical services, she said.

New Hampshire’s efforts come as the American Academy of Pediatrics and other organizations have declared a national state of emergency in children’s mental health. The groups recently called on policy makers to take action on multiple fronts, including addressing the shortage of beds and emergency room boarding.