It is unfortunate some have chosen to knock New Hampshire for an alleged failure to test for COVID-19 in nursing homes. As of a July 15 story by Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts, New Hampshire was one of only seven states with “ongoing, required testing of residents, staff, or both.”
Indeed, we were one of the first states out of the gate.
On March 13, the federal government imposed restrictions upon nursing homes: No visitation or communal activities. Even group dining was forbidden.
Within weeks the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) had facilitated one-time testing of nursing home staff in Hillsborough and Rockingham counties, then our “hotspots.” That extended into the other counties. Following that, regular, state-paid sentinel surveillance began of all nursing home staff statewide, and continues to this day.
DHHS has been a great partner, not only in testing but in working to procure personal protective equipment.
And for facilities looking to buy PPE, in the early days of scarcity, even state officials like Taylor Caswell, the commissioner of Business and Economic Affairs, personally worked to vet vendors. To be sure, nursing homes need more financial resources. If you want to express concerns about that, I’m with you, but the state shouldn’t be criticized for what it has done right.
It’s a demoralizing disservice to those who put in a lot of hard work.
Prior to the pandemic, New Hampshire nursing homes ranked best in the country for substantial compliance with federal health survey standards. Imagine the incomprehensible tragedy in other states — like New Jersey — where over 15 percent of all nursing home residents, and more than 100 workers, have died from the virus.
Here we mourn the loss of nursing home residents (and those in other long-term care settings) to COVID-19, but no blame game will bring them back. Providers and the state alike have tried to do their best to control this unpredictable virus, with the state leaving no stone unturned and going so far as to investigate facility HVAC systems.
Our existential worry now is staff retention and recruitment, given understandable worry about working in an environment at the epicenter of COVID-19 risk.
I recently drove by a McDonald’s offering $14 an hour for a maintenance position. Within the tight constraints of Medicaid reimbursement that is more than even the county-run nursing home in our largest county can offer those working in food service, housekeeping or laundry.
The challenge going into next year will be to find the funding to address our workforce crisis and sustain quality care. And given the severe economic impact of the pandemic, we must also hope the federal government will augment its parsimonious, to date, direct assistance to struggling long-term care providers and states alike.