Executive Council approves Chicoine to head Energy Department, funds to help hospitals

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Jared Chicoine, pictured with Gov. Chris Sununu, was approved to a new position as Commissioner of the Department of Energy despite concerns raised by Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington about his qualifications and position on global warming at Wednesday’s Executive Council meeting. Photo/Paula Tracy


CONCORD, NH – The Executive Council voted 4-1 to confirm Jared Chicoine as Commissioner of the new Department of Energy and approved funding for Gov. Chris Sununu’s plan to help hospitals that are stressed with the recent COVID-19 surge.

Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington, D-Concord, said it was with regret that she opposed Chicoine’s confirmation, at Wednesday’s meeting.

She said Chicoine has no technical expertise and knows little about climate change. Warmington said he told her he believes free markets will take care of climate change, and it is evidenced by the 10-year plan in his position at the Office of Strategic Planning.

Warmington called the governor’s nomination of Chicoine “troublesome” on its own but combined with other political appointments including those to the Public Utilities Commission “point to a dangerous direction” in the state’s energy policy and programs.

“We need to put the interests of our state first,” Warmington said.

Councilor Joe Kenney, R-Wakefield, said he has known and respected Chicoine and called him a “north country kid.”

“Yes, he doesn’t have a technical background,” Kenney said, but he noted other commissioners in that position surround themselves with others with the background.

Hospital Plan

Sununu’s “strategic and targeted first steps” to meet the serious capacity challenges at New Hampshire’s hospitals were approved. The Council will use $14 million in federal American Rescue Plan funds to assist in freeing up needed hospital beds by adding capacity at long-term care centers with beds, but not enough staff to transfer individuals in hospital beds.

Allocating ARP funds to pay providers who take an individual while their Medicaid eligibility is pending approval, allowing nursing facilities and mid-level residential care facilities to accept those individuals more quickly will relieve some pressure, Sununu said.

The measures, approved by the legislative Joint Fiscal Committee, and taken together will:

  • Create temporary acute care centers at ambulatory surgical centers and other appropriate providers.
  • Pay rehabilitation centers to accept nursing home residents waiting for a bed in a long-term care facility at the rehabilitation center rate.
  • Create strike teams for long-term care staffing to increase capacity at long-term care facilities that have empty unstaffed beds.

Also, the governor, through the Department of Health and Human Services, submitted a request to FEMA to use the funding to increase access to vaccination and testing sites for COVID-19.

And there was $26 million in federal funding approved for the upcoming Booster Blitz on Dec. 11.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said on any given day in the state there are between 30 and 50 people in hospital beds who could be moved to long-term care but can’t mostly because they don’t have Medicaid eligibility.

This will alleviate the problem and allow for the hospital bed to be used by a COVID-19 or other critical care patient by guaranteeing the nursing home they will be paid, regardless of Medicaid status.

Warmington said she applauded efforts in the face of the healthcare crisis.

She had a technical question about an overall cap on the program and whether there was a mechanism to avoid overcommitment.

She was told that they would be monitoring and prepared to ask for more ARP funds from the governor and Council.

CMS waivers are being used across the country, and Councilor Janet Stevens, R-Rye, thanked the department for finding a creative solution and also for working long hours over the Thanksgiving period. The vote was unanimous.

The Council also unanimously approved a late item agenda for $6 million to provide a strike team to assist in the hospital COVID-19 response.

Councilor Ted Gatsas, R-Manchester, wanted to know about the specific rates being paid while Councilor David Wheeler, R-Milford, was concerned about hospital policies that require employees to be vaccinated or lose their job. He wanted the state to encourage the facilities to not require such vaccinations.

Dr. Jonathan Ballard, chief medical officer for the Department of Health and Human Services, said the department intends to not be supplanting for terminated employees due to vaccination status, but to help the facilities’ needs.

Gatsas asked what happens even if at $300 an hour the state can’t find anyone to fill the health care positions?

Ballard said he believes it will be successful based on talks with recruiters.

The state is part of a multi-state compact allowing professionals who are licensed elsewhere within that compact to be able to work here.

$107M Mental Health Vans

As of Jan. 1, the state will have 10 mobile crisis units available due to a contract amendment the Council approved Wednesday.

While Gatsas said he could not support it because of concerns for the 8.1 percent administrative costs, the Council voted to authorize AmeriHealth Caritas NH Inc., Philadelphia, PA; Boston Medical Center Health Plan Inc., Charlestown, MA; and Granite State Health Plan Inc., Bedford, NH, to provide health care services to eligible and enrolled Medicaid participants through New Hampshire’s Medicaid managed care program known as NH Medicaid Care Management, by increasing the total price by $107,893,151 from $3.2 billion to $3.3 billion with no change to the completion date of August 31, 2024.

Health and Human Services officials the state currently has three units and the training for the others is underway. Most of the centers are staffing up and might not have 100 percent of their staffing by the first day but will be able to respond.

Nominations, Confirmations

The Council unanimously supported the governor’s nomination of Pradip K. Chattopadhyay of Bow to the Public Utilities Commission, succeeding Kathryn M. Bailey of Bow at an annual salary of $126,620.

The Council also approved Mark Attorri of Bow as justice to the New Hampshire Superior Court and accepted the resignation of M. Kristin Spath as justice of the Circuit Court.

Brattleboro Retreat

The Council approved a $684,000 sole-source contract with The Brattleboro Retreat, Brattleboro, Vt., to operate as a Designated Receiving Facility by providing acute, inpatient psychiatric services to children and youth 5 to 17 years old.

Brattleboro will never have more than 10 New Hampshire children and they do have some capacity.

State Employees Picket

The Council again had members of state employee labor unions picketing with signs asking for “FAIR PAY FOR DOT!” and other bargaining groups.

They applauded when Warmington asked Department of Health and Human Services officials why they chose to offer a 30 percent salary enhancement to the Medicaid Pharmacy Director rather than including it into a bargaining contract.

Shibinette said when they cannot recruit with the wage schedule they ask for these sorts of enhancements through the Council.

“I have to work with what I have,” Shibinette said.

Warmington said: “I would suggest the proper way to do this is through negotiations,” to applause by members of the SEIU who attended the meeting.

School Debt Relief

The Council approved a previously tabled contract to offer $17 million in federal ARP funds to pay off student loan debt. This is an effort to expand and retain New Hampshire’s workforce by reducing or eliminating student debt for participants that qualify.

Workforce issues have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Warmington asked Taylor Caswell, who heads up the GOFERR program, how the program will work and how individuals are selected. Caswell said it will be a first-come-first-served program for those who qualify.

No specific industry is being identified but every industry in the state needs workers.

Commendations

Tireless volunteers who know a lot about the state and greet visitors were honored by the meeting.

The Ambassadors is a 501 C 3 non-profit that is supporting tourism at the welcome centers and the airport in Manchester.


About this Author

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Paula Tracy

Veteran reporter Paula Tracy writes for InDepthNH.org