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N.H. brain injury unit to close

Program only one of its kind in state

By Holly Ramer
Associated Press / October 15, 2009

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CONCORD, N.H. - As the state moves ahead with layoffs, the closing of a New Hampshire Hospital unit means not only lost jobs for workers, but new homes for some patients.

Paula Mattis, hospital director, told employees Tuesday that a unit for brain injury patients will close by Oct. 30. Patients will be discharged or transferred, and workers will be laid off or reassigned, she said in an e-mail.

Mattis declined to comment yesterday, but the director of the Brain Injury Association of New Hampshire said the unit’s patients may have to leave New Hampshire.

“I don’t know where else people will receive this care, because it’s the only program of its kind in the state,’’ said Steven Wade, who was shocked to hear that the unit will close.

Wade said he worries not only about the unit’s current patients, but veterans returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with traumatic brain injuries.

“At the very time this population is returning home, the program is being eliminated,’’ he said.

Though the unit has only a small number of beds, the need for such services is great, Wade said. If the hospital did not have such strict admission rules, “people would be lined up at the door,’’ he said.

A Unity woman whose son once lived in the unit said she had nowhere else to turn.

Lucille Cook’s son, James, suffered brain damage at birth when doctors used forceps to deliver him. He was 44 when he died in August, about a year and a half after moving to the hospital from a group home.

“The reason he was at the [brain injury unit] was that there was no other place for him to go,’’ Cook, 65, said yesterday. “Every time we’d bring him to a regular hospital, they just couldn’t deal with him.’’

As her son grew ill with pancreatic problems, the hospital staff began looking for an intensive care nursing home, but no place would take him, Cook said.

“There’s just so little help available for these people,’’ she said. “It’s unreal. It’s just unreal. It makes me very sad.’’

The unit’s pending closure was one of the few details to emerge after state workers on Monday rejected a contract that called for 19 unpaid furlough days over two years. Governor John Lynch, who is required under the budget passed in June to cut $25 million in labor costs, said 250 people would be laid off and another 60 reassigned to lower-paying positions.

The head of the state’s largest agency - Nick Toumpas, commissioner of Health and Human Services - said his department, which includes the state hospital, will lay off, reassign, or demote more than 150 people, according to an e-mail the state employees’ union obtained and shared with reporters.

A spokeswoman for the department declined to comment on the e-mail yesterday and said officials would not comment on any specific programs until later this week.

According to union officials, there have been eight layoffs so far at the state’s nursing home for mentally ill or developmentally disabled elderly adults, three at the state veteran’s home, and seven at the Department of Revenue.

The union also said it has heard about a small number of layoffs at other state agencies, including the agriculture, information technology, and treasury departments.