The Department of Health and Human Services has indefinitely suspended the practice of sending young children with mental illness onto a psychiatric ward for teenagers and adults at the New Hampshire Hospital.
The Department’s internal investigation into the transfer of a 13 and 6 year old boy to the Hospital last month determined no patients were harmed.
New Hampshire Public Radio’s Dan Gorenstein reports.
Friday December 11, top New Hampshire Hospital officials decided if four or fewer children were patients at the Anna Philbrook Center for Children then they would spend evenings and mornings on what’s called F Unit at the New Hampshire Hospital.
And that’s where two boys- a 13 and a 6 year old- spent parts of the next Monday through Wednesday.
HHS says a similar transfer happened at least once previously, that was in 2001.
The Department is definitive the boys weren’t exposed to physical or psychological harm.
But Associate Commissioner Nancy Rollins, who also lead the Department’s investigation, says despite the finding, it’s not in anyone’s interest to combine kids with teenagers and adult patients.
“We made the determination it’s not optimal. It is not a practice that we want to continue... and we need to go down a different pathway.”
Rollins investigation looked into several alleged interactions with the boys while they were on F Unit.
Internal correspondence written by clinical staff at the Hospital obtained by NHPR outlined several troubling episodes.
According to the document, an adult psychotic patient chased one of the children because that patient didn’t like the noises the child was making.
At another point, the six year old ran into an adult woman’s room, which upset the woman because of concerns she has about her own child.
One of the children overheard a patient screaming, and swearing and threatening to burn down the hospital.
“We looked at all those incidents that claimed to happen, because that’s very disturbing, very concerning information.”
That’s Paula Mattis, acting Chief Executive Officer of the New Hampshire Hospital.
“The Department conducted a review. I cannot tell you what prompted someone to write that.”
Mattis says there’s no evidence to suggest any of those incidents played out the way they are described in the document.
The Disabilities Rights Center also began looking into the matter back in December.
HHS attributes the Center’s concern to halting the practice as quickly as it did.
Executive Director Dick Cohen says he doesn’t understand how this decision was ever made.
“I think it was a gross error in judgment. I don’t know of a system where you mix kids with adults except in families...and to mix young emotionally fragile kids, with older emotionally fragile adults just doesn’t make sense from a common sense point of view, let alone from a clinical point of view.”
Cohen says he accepts that HHS has no plans to take disciplinary action against any of the people involved with making the decision to transfer the patients.
He, like many involved with the situation, are just glad that the policy has been indefinitely suspended.
From here, HHS will consider how to handle the Philbrook population going into the future.
With dwindling patient loads, an inadequate facility, and a $40 million dollar budget shortfall, the Department understands it must revamp these services.
For NHPR News, I’m DG.