Parkland Medical Center has received the green light from the Derry Planning Board for a 7,462-square-foot facility to house and help people with mental illness.
Chris Rice, a civil engineer with T.F. Moran; Jeff Scionti, Parkland chief executive officer; and John Burke, director of plant operations and security at Parkland, attended the April 2 Planning Board meeting to discuss the addition. While a local resident raised safety concerns during the public hearing, the board gave conditional approval to the project, while reminding Parkland and its neighbors to stay connected regarding security issues.
The area is zoned Office Medical Business (OMB) and the Parcel ID number is 05043-001.
Rice said the proposed addition will go in the northwest corner of the medical center’s property. The two-story addition is designed to match the existing facility, Rice said, and will be a Behavioral Health Unit.
Scionti took the microphone to explain what that will mean. “With inpatient psychiatric patients, we often have trouble finding a facility to place them with,” he said. “They will often stay with us up to eight days, while we offer them inpatient therapy and a bed.” That bed, Scionti said, is often in the Emergency Department.
Scionti emphasized that the Behavioral Health Unit will not be a place for IEAs (Involuntary Emergency Admissions), but for voluntary patients only.
“Will they be recovering from drug addiction?” alternate member Marc Flattes asked.
Scionti said they would not, they would be people requiring inpatient psychiatric services. A total of 14 beds will be available, he said, and in the first year he expected to fill seven or eight.
Chairman David Granese asked if there was a possibility of the unit hosting someone “the police had brought in who was in restraints,” but Scionti reiterated that it was a voluntary admission unit.
“It is amenable to people who want the help and want to remain local,” he said.
Member Randall Chase asked about the age group it would serve, and Scionti said most of the clients would be 18 to 64. “But that doesn’t mean we won’t have older adults,” he added.
In the public hearing Charlene Batten, an abutter at 8 Pierce Ave., said she had had a brother diagnosed with mental illness. He suffered from 2003 to 2013, she said. While his initial diagnosis was depression, that soon expanded into bipolar disease, schizophrenia and manic depression, she said.
Helping with his care, she “saw the inside of every hospital in the area,” she told the board and Scionti. While her brother was often admitted voluntarily, that didn’t mean he would stay in a facility. “He could stay 15 minutes and leave with no shoes, in the rain,” she said, adding, “How can you maintain the security?”
Batten also disputed the statement that there would be no drug issues, noting that drug addiction often went hand-in-hand with mental illness. She alleged that she had heard about drug use at Alexander-Carr Park, also on Pierce Avenue, and said, “The police have enough to do at the park.”
Scionti responded that the building would be a locked unit, out of concern for the patients, staff and community’s safety. “We are currently unable to secure them in the (Emergency Department), so this would be safer,” he told Batten.
But Batten said a voluntary unit brought problems, noting, “Short of a court order, there is no way you can keep them seven days.”
“That is their right,” Scionti said.
Batten said her brother died after his 48th birthday, and for much of his time with mental illness, “it was a game. There was no way he’d stay seven days in a program.”
Scionti said the program is being done in conjunction with the Center For Life Management (CLM) in Derry, and the two facilities coordinate on discharge planning and follow-up care. Portsmouth Hospital, Parkland’s “sister hospital,” has conducted successful voluntary admission programs for up to five to seven days, he said.
But Batten disputed the belief that only people with depression would come to the facility. “It starts with depression,” she said. “Are you equipped to handle substance abuse?”
Parkland, Scionti said, would be working with other programs when necessary.
“I do not feel safe,” Batten said.
Granese asked if the windows in the new building would open, and Rice confirmed that they would not.
Granese asked if Parkland would be willing to work with abutters on any security concerns. While Planning Director George Sioras said it was his understanding that the hospital has a relationship with Derry Police, Vice-Chair John O’Connor asked for more. “Could there be a direct line to someone on staff, where neighbors could voice their concerns?” he asked.
Burke said he was open to calls from area residents.
Board member Randy Chase warned that the board had to be careful in this regard, because Burke could be “inundated” with calls from residents.
“We are ready to respond to any neighborhood complaints,” Burke said. “We have an outsourced security firm that is on duty 24-7, and that makes regular patrols.”
O’Connor asked that it be noted in the record that the hospital is “sensitive” to the neighbors’ concerns.
And Chase, a Derry firefighter, observed that the facility is needed. “We bring people in and we see someone sitting there, waiting to get a bed,” he said. “Four days later, we come in with someone else and they’re still sitting there. It’s disgraceful.”
The Planning Board voted unanimously to accept jurisdiction of the plan and approve the application. It also approved a waiver from federal soil mapping requirements, based on the fact that the proposed building would be on town water and sewer.