by Annmarie Timmins, New Hampshire Bulletin
The state is on track to begin construction of a $49 million, 24-bed forensic hospital next to the state hospital early next spring or summer, but it’s going to cost about $757,000 more than expected due to inflation, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.
At a public presentation Monday night, the department said it had settled on one of two designs it unveiled in June, choosing the one that adjoins the forensic hospital to the left of the existing state hospital. Its courtyard will be surrounded by a 16-foot fence made of wood and steel panels to keep patients, some of whom have committed crimes, from leaving the grounds. The state says it is on track to begin building a new forensic hospital for people considered dangerous and in need of mental health treatment by spring or summer next year. (Screenshot)
In a request to the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee, which meets Friday, the department has requested permission to cover increased construction costs by transferring nearly $757,000 in unused federal funds from another agency program.
Questions from the approximately 35 people who attended the Zoom presentation focused on traffic in and out of the new hospital, parking, potential for future expansion, visibility from the road, and patient population.
Patients will fall into three categories, department spokesman Jake Leon said: those who committed a crime but cannot stand trial because of their mental illness; people found not guilty at trial because of their illness; and people who have not broken the law but are too dangerous to be treated in a conventional setting like the state hospital.
That population is currently held at the state prison, a setting lawmakers, state officials, mental health advocates, and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights have said is inappropriate for people who need mental health treatment. In the last two state budgets, lawmakers set aside $38 million for a hospital capped at 24 beds, 16 fewer than the Department of Health and Human Services sought.
State officials and members of the hospital design team from SMRT Architects and Engineers said there is space for additional parking on the state hospital grounds and room for an expansion, though that is not part of this design. Ted Kupper of the state Department of Administrative Services said a traffic study showed the greatest impact will be seen at the Clinton Street entrance, near the Concord District Court. He said one option under consideration is staggering work shifts for the state hospital and new forensic hospital to reduce the number of staff coming and going at the same time. Trees, shrubs, and other plantings will shield the view from Clinton Street, according to the drawings.
Department of Health and Human Services officials advocated during the legislative session for a much bigger hospital with at least 60 beds.
The slides from Monday’s presentation are on the Department of Health and Human Services’ website at dhhs.nh.gov by searching “forensic hospital.”
This story was written by Annmarie Timmins, a reporter at the New Hampshire Bulletin, where this story first appeared.
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