Sununu Center gets additional $846K in federal money to attempt to adequately staff up

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The Fiscal Committee met Friday. Screenshot of livestream.

CONCORD, NH – The Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester will get another $846,000 in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to help staff the facility for troubled youth as the state moves in 2023 to transition it to a more clinical-based model.

The Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee voted unanimously on Friday to fund the contract with a private recruiting firm to hire 18 staff and pay them for seven months to help with the worker shortage.

This follows the approval of the state’s Executive Council.

The previously tabled item came under the scrutiny of House and Senate members who wanted more detailed information on what is happening at the facility and why the funds were being requested outside of what had been budgeted.

Joe Ribsam, head of the Department of Health and Human Services Division of Children, Youth and Families, which oversees SYSC, Kerrin Rounds, chief financial officer for DHHS, and Commissioner of HHS Lori Shibinette addressed the committee and answered questions for close to an hour.

Ribsam said the seven-month contract is needed as the state no longer has the staff adequate to offer $1,700 a day placement for Vermont youth and cannot expect that revenue stream and there are additional retirement and other labor expenditures. He noted that the current census of youths at the facility has a high level of acuity for mental health needs that in some cases require a 2-1 ratio of staff to youth.

Additionally, the department is relying on filling vacancies with overtime which is more expensive and using corrections officers who have a higher level of pay than those who might be recruited under this contract and paid by the contractor by the hour.

Shibinette said at no other time has the state been so focused on closing the facility. She said currently the state is looking at options and while it is not likely that the facility will be closed this year, efforts are being put in place to close it in 2023.

The governor said earlier this week that he would personally bulldoze the facility which bears the name of his father, former Gov. John Sununu.

The money, Shibinette said, is “a bridge” and she noted earlier this week at Governor and Council meeting that the state still needs to fully staff and provide care until it is closed.

Ribsam said there are currently 14 youths at the center and the budget is over $10 million a year.

He noted it has long been below the economy of scale to run the facility.

DHHS staff said to not get the money now would possibly mean the state would have to send youths to detention facilities far from New Hampshire or place an additional burden on emergency rooms where these youths would need to wait for placement.

The Fiscal Committee unanimously approved the funds.

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Paula Tracy

Veteran reporter Paula Tracy writes for