CONCORD, NH – Gov. Chris Sununu announced an executive order to deal with the state’s mental health emergency room crisis in New Hampshire where patients are being housed for an indefinite period of time without evaluation and a plan for walk-in vaccination sites beginning May 17.
The information came during the governor’s weekly COVID-19 press conference in which it was announced that cases continue to drop but there were four new deaths.
Sununu said his emergency order frees up money, ensures partnerships exist with private care providers, and drops roadblocks to get emergency mental health evaluations done in a timely manner.
The announcement came after the state Supreme Court this week found that the state must do a better job for its people, that it needs to have these people evaluated in three days, not languish until a bed is available. Sununu said he was “absolutely embracing” the court ruling noting there is an urgent need for the state to accelerate its response.
Funds will be released to improve rates, create bed capacity and it has to be community-based, the governor said, with those who need care getting that care closer to home. It calls for a review of all mental health services across the state to be sure partners or private vendors are doing their job and to look for the best and brightest private providers from across the country to be incentivized to help.
Sununu stressed the need to. identify more capacity on an expedited basis, and said about 50 more beds can be found almost immediately in a variety of areas of the state, noting long-term care facilities are making room, opening doors and beds. Additionally, Sununu said he was going to the legislative fiscal committee to open up more beds in NH Hospital in an effort of “coordination and look to a seamless system.
“The court said ‘no more excuses’,” Sununu said, “That has empowered us” to build long-term infrastructure changes to address the problem.
“Right now there are barriers in place for partnerships,” he explained. “We are breaking down those barriers today.”
“I don’t want to hear from the lobbyist. This is a need…This is a crisis,” exacerbated by the pandemic he said.
He noted while the number of adults seeking such emergency mental health care has remained stable, that for children has spiked, in part due to the isolation and lack of school.
He said in 2016 the mental health system in New Hampshire was in disarray.
“I called it the unspoken crisis,” he said, but both legislatures – Republican and Democratically controlled – invested a lot of money and made a lot of headway to the point where the number of people waiting in the emergency room went to zero folks at one point, but daily census numbers were at 60 to 70 people before.
He said Shibinette, who was previously was running NH Hospital before being tapped as DHHS Commissioner, “fundamentally transformed that system” it hit the roadblock called the pandemic.
“It was really was a perfect storm that kind of pulled us back,” he said.
The governor urged parents facing a mental health crisis with their children to “seek services.”
Sununu also announced that as of next week, state-run vaccine sites will also serve as a place for walk-ins with 50 doses a day being available between 3 and 6 p.m. with no appointment and follow-up appointments given at the time of the first dose.
Fixed site walk-ins will be available in Belmont, Concord, Dover, Hooksett, Keene, Nashua, Newington, Newport, Plymouth, Salem, and West Lebanon.
“This change really helps the state with vaccine waste,” he noted.
He hopes “when the thought strikes” people can just go get the vaccine immediately.
Sununu stated New Hampshire is among one of the first states to offer such a service and one of the first to offer out-of-state residents a vaccine.
COVID-19 CASE UPDATE
Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist, said there were 222 new cases of the coronavirus in the state on Thursday, down from last week bringing the total number of active cases to 1,450. He said on a daily basis the state averages 150 to 200 new infections per day.
The state’s positivity rate is now at 3.0 percent, down from last week and hospitalizations have also come down from a week ago. As of Thursday, there were 62 people in the hospital with COVID-19.
Sadly, he said, there were four new deaths reported Thursday, none of whom resided in long-term care facilities.
Chan said that brings the state to a total of deaths so far from the virus to 1,326.
He said the deaths “highlight the ongoing risk and why we continue to stress the importance of vaccination.”
Sununu urged all to take up open appointments and to complete the two-dose series for the Pfizer and Moderna shots, “for the longest level of protection.”
“Getting vaccinated is low risk and a very high benefit,” he said, “in protecting oneself and ending this pandemic.”
LONG TERM CARE UPDATE
Lori Shibinette, commissioner of the state Department of Health and Human Services, gave a brief update, with no new outbreaks reported at any congregate setting. However, outbreaks continue at the federal corrections facility in Berlin and at the Sullivan County nursing home.
She said the state has completed 4,048 vaccination home visits for those who are home-bound and noted she expects to complete that population’s vaccination needs by the end of May.
Dr. Beth Daly, who heads up the infectious disease department within DHHS, said there have been 1,267,000 vaccine doses given out in the state so far, including 750,000 getting their first dose making up 55 percent of the total population and 555,000 fully vaccinated, about 41 percent of the population.
She said the state continues to receive 50,000 doses a week from the various federal programs.
The big news this week is that the two-dose Pfizer vaccine is now available for people 12 to 15. Until now, the vaccines have been available to those aged 16 and up.
Parents can register their teens at the state VINI website. So far, in one day, 6,000 have already registered out of a population of about 60,000, Daly said.
Because they can only receive the Pfizer vaccine she said parents should look for the list of locations on the website which offer that vaccine, noting the list includes Walgreens drug stores and many local hospitals.
Additionally, the state is setting up school vaccination clinics.
Officials noted some children can get seriously ill from the coronavirus. There have been 3 million sickened and 500 children have died including from multisystem inflammatory disease related to COVID-19.
Daly said vaccinations will help keep teens healthy and in school.
“We do encourage all parents to make that choice,” she said.
The state is also continuing with mobile clinics to make it more accessible and working with Elliott Hospital in Manchester to reach deaf people, with a clinic scheduled on May 22 in Manchester. Call 603-546-7882 by videophone or visit email@example.com.
LANCASTER FAIRGROUNDS TO HOST VACCINE DRIVE-THRU
Vermont and New Hampshire are working together to offer a joint Special Clinic of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a drive-through at the Lancaster Fairgrounds Friday, May 21 from noon to 6 p.m. For more information, search “Lancaster” at vaccines.nh.gov.
Daly said supply is now meeting demand but in the future, as the numbers dwindle down there will be more efforts to go to large employers, mobile sites, and other businesses for pop-up clinic and event opportunities, perhaps with free incentives.
CHAN “A LITTLE UNHAPPY” WITH SUDDEN CDC DECISION LIFTING MASKS FOR THOSE FULLY VACCINATED
Today, Dr. Chan said he was “a little unhappy” with the way CDC rolled out guidance on masks, announcing that anyone fully vaccinated no longer has to wear a mask inside or out, with recommendations to wear it in congregate settings. It does not impact federal travel restrictions which still are requiring a mask.
Chan said he found out about it in the news rather than getting a briefing and written rationalization for changes, so he could not definitively express a view until he read the data. He said he wondered whether the timing was right.
“Yes we have great confidence in the vaccines,” he said, adding that moving back to a maskless world is “where we are going. The difficult choices are what is the correct timing? We’ve always said that is a factor of two different things.”
He said there is still a large percentage of the population still vulnerable to the virus.
The governor said the state now has got the federal guidance on $1.5 billion for towns, cities, and state infrastructure, and other relief. Sununu said the state doesn’t really need the federal funds, but it will take the money.
The rules and regulations that will guide how the state can spend the federal dollars have been answered in a 150-page guidebook from the U.S. Treasury. There’s money to help improve state parks, build better infrastructure, and make the investments where needed. It comes in addition to the $1.25 billion the state got in CARES Act funds during the prior administration.
The state will only receive half the money this year, with the second half arriving next year due to New Hampshire’s comparatively low unemployment numbers.
Sununu noted there is a list of potential projects at the state level and he is working with Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, and House Speaker Sherm Packard, R-Londonderry, to ensure they’re all on the same page.
The fundamental goal, he said is to invest the funds to reduce the financial burden on cities and towns, thus taking the burden off the local taxpayers.
He said to expect the first half to be received as early as next week.
The governor said that the money will not be used to backfill and it will still allow the tax cuts that he has put in the state budget for the next fiscal year and the one to come. It includes the interest and dividends tax, meals and rooms, and business taxes.
RECOUPMENT OF CARES ACT FUNDS
Businesses that thought they would lose revenue and received CARES Act funding but did not realize such losses are still expected to be asked to return the money but the governor is asking that it be forgiven.
Treasury officials would like to find a path forward to waive those grants, he said, regardless of revenue loss, and noted he is hopeful they will see that to fruition.
BREAKTHROUGH CASES AND VARIANTS CIRCULATING
Dr. Chan said New Hampshire is investigating infections after people have been fully vaccinated and there have been about 178 known cases among 550,000 fully vaccinated.
“It is still a small percentage,” he said and mirrors national data.
He said the state is also seeing virus variants, similar to national trends, and an increasing proportion of the B117 or UK source variant, circulating in the state.