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 will cost about $757,000 due to inflation, according to the state health department -dollars cost more than expected and human services.
At a public presentation Monday night, the department said it chose one of two designs it unveiled in June, choosing the one that adjoins the forensic hospital to the left of the existing state hospital. The courtyard will be surrounded by a 16 foot high fence made of wood and steel panels to prevent patients, some of whom have committed crimes, from leaving the premises.
In a motion to the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee meeting Friday, the department has asked for permission to fund 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 street, and patient population.
The patients fall into three categories, department spokesman Jake Leon said: those who have committed a crime but cannot stand trial because of their mental illness; people who have been found not guilty in court because of their illness; and people who have not broken the law but are too dangerous to be treated in a conventional facility like the state hospital.
This population is currently being held in state prison, an environment that lawmakers, state officials, mental health advocates and the US Commission on Civil Rights have said are unsuitable for people requiring mental health treatment. In the last two state budgets, lawmakers have earmarked $38 million for a hospital with a 24-bed ceiling, 16 fewer than requested by the Department of Health and Human Services.
State officials and members of the hospital design team from SMRT Architects and Engineers said there is room for additional parking on the state hospital site and room for expansion, although it is not part of this design. Ted Kupper of the state Department of Administrative Services said a traffic study showed the biggest impact will be seen at the Clinton Street entrance near Concord District Court. He said one option under consideration is staggering work shifts for the state hospital and the new forensic hospital to reduce the number of staff coming and going at the same time. According to the drawings, trees, shrubs and other plants will block the view from Clinton Street.
Department of Health and Human Services officials advocated a much larger hospital with at least 60 beds during the legislature.
The slides from Monday’s presentation can be found on the Department of Health and Human Services website at dhhs.nh.gov by searching for “Forensic Hospital”.