CEO NH Hospital is Sununu's pick to run HHS

Gov. Chris Sununu announced he would be nominating New Hampshire Hospital CEO Lori Shibinette of Northfield to become the next commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services. If confirmed, she would replace Jeffrey Meyers who stepped down earlier this month after four years of running the state’s largest agency.

CONCORD — According to new reports, the number of adults and children with mental illness waiting to get into New Hampshire Hospital has fallen over the past year, ending the long streak in what had become an out-of-control system.

Gov. Chris Sununu, his administration and legislative leaders from both parties celebrated the new, much-lower numbers in contrast to just two years ago when as many as 72 adults and 27 children were left without a bed in the Concord-based program.

“Rebuilding our mental health system has been a priority since day one,” Sununu said in a statement.

“Last term we brought in a first-class team at New Hampshire Hospital and signed HB 400, which added more transitional housing beds. While there is still a ways to go, we have worked hard to address this crisis because lives are at stake, and it’s the right thing to do.”

For the past several months the number of adults on the wait list has averaged about 15 and the number of children has sunk to the single digits, according to Lori Shibinette, CEO of the Hospital for the past two years.

“We are really happy with these outcomes but there’s still more to do,” Shibinette said Thursday during a phone interview.

“Getting all the players at the table was huge, getting those running the hospital emergency rooms, the community mental health centers, our terrific New Hampshire Hospital team all together to say, ‘This is not acceptable’ and ‘What are we going to do about it?’ We have become very creative with discharge processing and how we look at the patients.”

Shibinette said that, when she first came on board, her staff helped her assess whether all the patients were appropriately placed in the hospital, which is an acute-care facility and not meant for someone who needs ongoing treatment.

“We had people there who basically didn’t have any place left to go,” Shibinette said, adding that some who belonged in a nursing-home setting were transferred to the Glencliff Home for the Elderly.

Two years ago, Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, championed expanding the treatment capacity for the system, leading to the addition of 20 transitional housing beds.

“It has taken several years of hard work and bipartisan cooperation to get to the point that we have a declining wait list at New Hampshire Hospital,” Bradley said. “Creating a safe and effective system of care for mental health patients has been a top priority for myself and my Senate colleagues and I am pleased to have data showing that our efforts are paying off. It was not easy, but thanks to the leadership of Governor Sununu, Senator (Chuck) Morse and (Health and Human Services) Commissioner (Jeff) Meyers, New Hampshire is in a better position to serve some of our most vulnerable citizens who suffer from mental illness.”

Meyers said progress has been made and new legislation should lead to even more.

“The trend in these numbers is very encouraging and a clear sign the work ... the governor, the department, and other state leaders have undertaken in the last two and a half years (is) paying off,” Meyers said. “While there is certainly more work to do, the recent signing of Senate Bill 11 and other efforts show that there is clearly a bipartisan commitment to providing the necessary resources and reforms to resolve the boarding crisis.”

Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, is prime author of SB 11, which increased pay in the mental health field, earmarked $1 million for higher reimbursement rates for beds for mental health patients, and added $4.4 million to allow for new beds and a new mobile crisis unit.

“It is wonderful to see this improvement and reduction in the wait list. This reflects primarily the hard work and dedication of the providers and staff at New Hampshire Hospital, the staff and leadership at the Department of Health and Human Services and those advocating for the patients receiving these critical services,” Sherman said in a statement.

“The bipartisan effort to craft the 10-year mental health plan and fully support it with bills such as SB 5, SB 11 and SB 14, demonstrates the commitment of the Legislature on both sides of the aisle to making sure the wait list goes away completely as soon as possible. As long as there is even one patient on the wait list, our job in the Legislature is not done,” he said.

Shibinette said that, in addition to goals spelled out in the program’s first strategic plan, one goal is to create specialty units for patients so they can be appropriately housed together by age and level of care needed.