Executive Council OK's $600K contract to help Hope for NHBy DAVE SOLOMON
State House Bureau
March 07. 2018 8:15PM
CONCORD — Just days after Hope for New Hampshire Recovery announced the closure of four centers across the state, the Executive Council approved an infusion of cash for the struggling volunteer organization on the front lines in the battle against opioid addiction.
Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers on Wednesday urged the five councilors to approve a retroactive $600,000 contract with the organization that started in 2014 with one location in Manchester, and quickly added sites in Berlin, Franklin, Claremont and Concord.
Hope operates under the peer recovery principal, in which most of the client contact is with volunteers, many of whom are in recovery themselves. Without medical professionals on staff, it has not been able to bill Medicaid for services, as required by its previous contract with the state.
In addition to funding shortfalls, the organization just went through a DHHS review of its policies and practices in the wake of criticism by former employees.
On Feb. 20, the organization announced it will close all but its core Manchester center, the only solvent operation, according to Hope founder Melissa Crews, who took over as executive director last month.
She said the state has not provided grant money since July to keep centers open in Concord, Franklin, Claremont and Berlin.
Meyers told the council on Wednesday that funding was suspended during the course of his department’s investigation, which concluded recently with no finding of wrongdoing. The new funding, with $150,000 immediately available, should help Hope get back on its feet, he said.
The Hope board of directors has determined that the new contract will allow it to reopen centers in Berlin and Franklin, but not in Claremont or Concord.
The council vote to approve the funding was unanimous, but with some reservations.
“No one wants to see us take a step back at this juncture,” said Councilor Chris Pappas, D-Manchester, regarding the availability of services for people struggling with addiction. “We can’t afford to see services disappear, so this is very disconcerting.”
Pappas pointed to what he called the “fragility” of many organizations that have arisen to combat the persistent opioid addiction crisis, including Manchester’s Serenity Place, which recently went into bankruptcy under the weight of demands for its services.
Meyers said his department is examining service providers statewide, and finding a common pattern.
“As we roll out these audit reports, you are going to see some of the same things. These are small organizations that don’t have every policy in place, don’t comply with every single aspect of the funding contracts,” he said.
“We’re going to have to work with these organizations, and I understand the challenge, But from my perspective, it’s important to keep these services going, even as we work with the organizations.”
Councilor Andru Volinsky, D-Concord, said he was most disappointed by the fact that Hope was required by its previous contract to become qualified for Medicaid billing, but failed to do so, unlike other peer recovery organizations in the state.
“Are we setting a double standard that Hope gets relief from Medicaid billing requirements, and other peer support groups do not?” he asked.
Meyers said it was a difficult decision, but the state is desperate to keep any viable addiction recovery services operating.
“I told them they are going to have to bill Medicaid, and they are committed to doing so with the right support,” he said. “It’s going to take a little more time to get them there.”
Meanwhile, officials in Claremont and Concord are concerned about filling the void left behind by Hope’s decision to close centers in those two cities.
Dartmouth-Hitchcock recently announced a $20,000 contribution designed to keep the Claremont center operating in the short-term, while Meyers expressed the hope that Riverbend Community Health, with locations in Concord and Franklin, could help fill the void created by Hope’s departure from the Capital City.