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Sununu seeks more funds to battle COVID-19 surge, staffing shortages

New Hampshire Governor Inauguration
Gov. Chris Sununu claps for the Executive Council after swearing them in at his inauguration ceremony in the Executive Council Chamber at the State House in Concord, N.H., on Jan. 7, 2021. (David Lane/AP)

Sununu seeks more funds to battle COVID-19 surge, staffing shortages

December 07, 04:00 PM December 07, 04:00 PM

Gov. Chris Sununu is seeking more money and resources to battle a winter surge of COVID-19 infections that is pushing the state’s health care system to the brink.

A proposal approved by the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee on Friday would devote $80 million to buttress the state’s health care system amid a record level of hospitalizations.

The plan calls for health care “strike teams” to provide staff in long-term care settings and financial incentives for nursing homes and assisted living facilities that accept more patients.

Sununu said he will be bringing the measure before the Executive Council, which must also sign off on expedited use of the federal funding.

In a letter to members of both key committees last week, Sununu said the funds were crucial to preserving the state’s health care system amid the latest surge of the virus.

The governor said New Hampshire’s COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are at an “all-time high” that is coinciding with an “alarming” shortage of health care workers.

“The increase in COVID-19 cases and staffing shortages are not only impacting hospitals but impacting long-term care facilities and community providers,” he wrote. “When capacity in non-hospital settings decreases, that further threatens available beds in hospitals.”

Like many Northeast states, New Hampshire is seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the highly contagious delta strain of the virus and colder weather that is drawing more people to indoor activities.

Last week, New Hampshire reported the highest seven-day per capita new case rate of COVID-19 in the nation, ahead of other states including Michigan and neighboring Vermont.

Sununu said New Hampshire has experienced a 43% surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations in the past two weeks, reaching the highest level of the pandemic.

At a briefing last week, Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist, said New Hampshire has been averaging 900 and 1,000 new cases each day, with nearly 400 people hospitalized.

The state’s seven-day positivity rate is 13.4%, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meanwhile, Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said the shortage of critical care beds is forcing some New Hampshire hospitals to divert patients to neighboring states to receive treatment.

“What we do know is our hospitals are transferring patients as far away as Connecticut and New York, to get the right level of care that they need,” she said at last week’s briefing.

Sununu is among a group of Republican governors suing the Biden administration over its COVID-19 vaccine mandates. He has argued that the federal requirements on health care workers to get their shots is compounding the labor shortages.

Republican lawmakers released a report last month warning that the vaccine mandates will exacerbate New Hampshire’s workforce shortage and supply chain issues.

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