MANCHESTER, N.H. – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen visited Hanover Hills Nursing Home on Friday for a roundtable discussion with several local experts on the state of assisted living in New Hampshire.
As of Oct. 16, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services report that 81.2 percent of the state’s 463 COVID-19 deaths have come at long-term care facilities such as nursing homes.
New Hampshire Health Care Association President and CEO Brendan Williams said that he wanted to be apolitical as possible in his remarks to the Senator and other members of the group while also expressing gratitude to Shaheen for her attentiveness and help in obtaining personal protective equipment.
Williams also expressed frustration with the federal government in general over COVID-19 relief, particularly with a lack of certainty over what will happen to the nursing home industry after all money from the CARES Act is spent as well as the fact that CARES Act funding could not be used to retain workers that are finding higher wages in the service industry.
“The money seems to be running out, but the virus isn’t running out,” he said.
Williams also noted a recent spike in COVID infections in New Hampshire and also said that the North Country is not immune from the virus, citing a recent case in Maine where a person was infected at a wedding and then infected others 100 miles away.
Ted Lee, President of Hanover Hills, echoed Williams’ statement regarding the difficulty finding employees, adding that additional unemployment benefits offered as part of the CARES Act has made it difficult to attract employees, even with hazard bonus pay and three wage increases for employees over the last year.
“We’re already behind the eight ball getting people to come to work and they’re looking at it like ‘why should I come into work when I can stay home and make more money?’” said Lee.
Catholic Charities President and CEO Tom Blonsky also expressed frustration with the lack of support from Concord and Washington, stating that nursing homes were barely staying afloat before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the industry could collapse entirely without financial assistance and help rebuilding trust in the safety of nursing homes. He also noted that New Hampshire is 47th in the nation in state Medicaid reimbursements and that ultimately the most profitable nursing homes are those that cut corners when it comes to care.
“The measure of civilization is how we treat our most vulnerable, and we’re failing at that,” he said. “I think it’s reflective in terms of how we’re being reimbursed through Medicaid. We’re all restricted now in terms of such low reimbursements.”
Members of the roundtable asked Shaheen if she expected a new COVID-19 relief package to pass the Senate before the election. While she was optimistic about President Trump’s back-and-forth on whether he would support a potential deal, she was adamant in that she would not support Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s proposed relief package, which does not have support for hospitals, nursing homes like Hanover Hill, most municipalities, or schools using remote education.
However, she expressed her hope that a deal does occur before Election Day, regardless of who wins the Presidency.
“If we’re going to get our economy working again, we need to get ahead of this virus,” she said.
The visit was organized through the Senator’s office rather than her campaign, even taking off her campaign-specific mask before entering the event. However, less than three weeks left until Election Day, Corky Messner Senior Campaign Advisor Mike Biundo questioned the timing of the visit.
“Once again, our Senator stages a campaign photo op — disguised as a ‘constituent visit’ — to lament the lack of COVID-19 aid, yet she rejected the last package proposed in the Senate, leaving Granite Staters, health care facilities, small businesses and others suffering with no aid and no hope of aid in the near future.”