CONCORD — New Hampshire plans to create a “hub-and-spoke” system of care for those struggling with addiction, once an expected $45.8 million in federal funding starts flowing into the state this fall.
The new system will include nine access hubs geographically located so that no state resident will have to travel more than an hour to access help for substance use disorders. With referrals funneled through a centralized crisis call center, care providers and a dedicated website, these hubs will provide screenings, evaluations and care coordination for all treatment, recovery and other services.
“We’re trying to get people well,” Gov. Chris Sununu said Wednesday at a State House event to unveil the state’s application for a State Opioid Response grant. It’s the state’s coordinated response to the ongoing drug epidemic that led to 487 fatal overdoses last year, the highest number yet.
Sununu and officials from the state Department of Health and Human Services stressed they intend to create a system that will help not just during the current opioid crisis but into the future.
“Today really marks the first time I think the state is taking a very significant, very strategic step in providing true coordination of care to battle the opioid crisis and the addiction crisis we have in the state,” the governor said. “This is a one-time opportunity to really get it right.”
DHHS Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers likewise called the funding “a unique opportunity.” And he said his staff and providers around the state are eager to begin work as soon as the money gets approved, which is expected by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
The funding from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) will go toward a broad range of services over the next two years, including expanded access to medication-assisted treatment in emergency departments, primary care offices and community providers. The proposal includes special programs for pregnant women, new parents and incarcerated individuals with substance use disorders.
The state also plans to expand recovery housing options as well as the supportive services offered at such facilities.
Other areas targeted for funds are peer recovery support services; increasing access to residential treatment through Medicaid; access to transitional living; mobile crisis and tele-health services; vocational training and workforce readiness initiatives for individuals in recovery; and a public-messaging campaign about the risk of opioids and the availability of treatment.
Sununu said the state is working with the University of New Hampshire and Keene State to increase the number of nurses and drug counselors. There are also plans to expand student loan repayment programs and scholarships for those who choose to work in addiction and recovery fields.
In its grant application, the state proposed spending about $536,000 (salaries and benefits) to hire five individuals to run the new program, including a data coordinator, finance manager, project coordinator, program auditor and contracts manager. The grant also includes a $150,000, two-year contract for a state opioid coordinator.
Abby Shockley, currently a senior policy analyst for the state Division of Behavioral Health, will serve as project director.
Sununu said he believes New Hampshire can be a model for the rest of the country — and he said that’s what the federal government is looking for the state to do.
“With a model like this finally, I really think we can be one of the first states to come out of it and come out of it stronger than we were before and with a system that’s sustainable, that’s long-term, that’s dealing with addiction issues, not just opioids,” he said.
Sununu credited the state’s congressional delegation for helping to secure the funding. After New Hampshire lawmakers pushed for SAMHSA to target funding for states that have been hardest hit by the opioid crisis instead of allocating money on a per-capita basis, the agency agreed to change its funding formula.
In a coordinated statement, the delegation praised the state plan. “This funding will help save lives and I’m very pleased the state is submitting a broad plan to put these resources to use,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH.
Originally, officials believed New Hampshire was eligible for $22.9 million in funding over a two-year period. But on July 26 — with the grant application deadline looming on Aug. 13 — SAMHSA notified DHHS that the state actually is eligible for that level of funding in each of the next two years.
Advocates are also commending the state’s proposal. Tym Rourke of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, a member and the past chair of the Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Intervention and Treatment, called the plan “outstanding.”
And Cheryle Pacapelli, project director for peer recovery support services at Harbor Homes in Nashua, said the state’s plan to coordinate services across agencies and providers “will create an infrastructure that can go on forever.”
Beyond the Stigma, a series exploring solutions to the state’s addiction and mental health challenges, is sponsored by the New Hampshire Solutions Journalism Lab at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications and funded by the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, NAMI New Hampshire, and private individuals. Contact reporter Shawne K. Wickham at firstname.lastname@example.org.