Former NH Nursing Home Pitched as Mental Health Facility for Teens

After a plan to convert a vacant New Hampshire nursing home into a drug treatment center failed amid community blowback, the facility could soon see second life as a mental health facility for teens.

The Bennington, Vt.-based group VPI South, which already operates a facility for girls who have experienced prolonged trauma, proposed opening the Gallagher Home for Girls at the building, the Keene (N.H.) Sentinel reported.

The 10,953-square-foot facility would house 12 individuals, according to a May 10 letter of intent that was submitted to Keene’s code enforcement department by Becket Family of Services, an Orford, N.H.-based nonprofit organization alliance that includes VPI South.

The program does not serve people with significant medical, developmental, or physical disabilities or substance abuse disorders, according to a letter of intent.

The proposal asked the city to classify the planned use of the nursing facility as a group home, noting that a special exemption must be secured for that use; officials granted such an exception to the current owner for the nursing home about 40 years ago.

The facility was chosen because of its location near Bennington and the staffing potential, given the proximity of Keene State College and the larger city of Brattleboro, Vt., VPI South executive director Ralph Bennett told the Sentinel.

Unused since 2016, the former nursing home and assisted living facility had previously been tabbed as a drug and alcohol addiction treatment center by a pair of local operators. But that plan faced considerable criticism from members of the community, according to the Sentinel, with some area homeowners worried about the potential effects on home values — as well as the facility’s proximity to public schools.

Behavioral health and addiction treatment providers have increasingly been eyeing nursing home properties to fuel their rapid expansion amid the nationwide opioid addiction crisis; as the SNF industry contracts due to reimbursement and staffing pressures, operators are leaving behind properties that are well-suited to serve inpatient drug rehab patients.

But the New Hampshire case illustrates the challenges that rehab providers face: Earlier this year, for instance, a non-profit behavior health firm was forced to pull out of plans to convert a portion of a county-operated nursing home in Illinois into an addiction treatment center after encountering regulatory troubles.

If Keene’s zoning board approves the special exception, VPI South will move forward with the purchase, Jay T. Wolter,  chief administrative officer at Becket Family of Services, told the publication.

Written by Maggie Flynn

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