Plan to deal with hospital bed crisis clears first hurdle

Dec. 3 – Administrators at five county and privately owned nursing homes have beds to help New Hampshire hospitals deal with record numbers of patients with COVID-19, Commissioner for Health and Human Services Lori Shibinette said Thursday.

Steve Ahnen, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Hospital Association, said he was more concerned now than ever in the past two years about the strain on the health system and its ailing workforce.

“The next four to six weeks will be incredibly challenging,” said Ahnen, who expects hospital admissions to increase further over the next month.

Before the recent surge, the all-time high for COVID-19 hospital admissions was January 1 at 334. As of Wednesday it was 403 and patients were being admitted to hospitals in Connecticut and Albany, NY for lack of beds, state officials said. The total number of hospital admissions dropped to 397, according to Thursday’s report.

The availability of acute hospital beds fell to 9% on Wednesday, the lowest level since the pandemic began.

Most hospitals are unable to provide free beds due to staff shortages, Shibinette said.

A measure of success would be to have hospital occupancy rates below 80 percent, “as it was before this surge in hospitals,” Shibinette said.

At an emergency meeting on Thursday, the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee approved two contracts necessary to implement the strategy that Governor Chris Sununu called for in an executive order.

The plan is now going to the Executive Board for approval. The next scheduled meeting of the council is Wednesday.

“I appreciate that the Finance Committee is accelerating action to approve these critical funds, which are a necessary first step in addressing the health care challenges in New Hampshire,” Sununu said after the vote.

More federal funding

The contracts give Shibinette the authority to transfer $ 26.5 million from her existing budget and accept an additional $ 64 million in federal grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Rescue Plan Act.

“We look forward to all the good you will do with it,” said Fiscal Committee Chair Karen Umberger, R-Conway, after the vote.

The aim is to create bed capacity “out of the back door” by moving dozens of elderly patients in hospitals to beds in nursing homes and assisted living centers.

These patients are ready to be discharged from the hospital but are waiting for beds to be opened in a nursing home or assisted living center.

The current estimate is that 75 patients can be moved to nursing homes and 30 to assisted living, she said.

Meanwhile, the state intends to add additional bed capacity “through the doorstep” by spending $ 9 million to grant outpatient surgical centers special licensing privileges to care for hospital patients.

These surgical centers could accommodate up to 75 hospital patients.

Shibinette said many hospitals own or manage surgical centers, some in the same location as the hospital.

The plan also addresses staffing issues in nursing homes by identifying up to 30 beds in rehabilitative hospitals that can temporarily accommodate long-term patients.

Another US $ 6 million will be used to set up eight “strike teams” of foreign professionals who will be deployed to these nursing homes to fill hospital units within their walls.

Sununu’s arrangement and this contract do not require long-term carers to provide space, although two county nursing homes and three private facilities have expressed an interest in it, Shibinette said.

The panel voted 10-0 for the ARPA grant of $ 20.5 million and 9-1 for accepting $ 43.5 million in FEMA funds and granting referral authorization to Shibinette.

The FEMA grant will be used to expand COVID-19 testing and vaccinations to take the pressure off hospitals that offer these services. A third mobile vaccine van, manned by Portsmouth’s BequemMD, will take to the streets to offer shots in underserved areas.

New London-based ClearChoiceMD is receiving enough cash to double the number of fixed locations across the state offering free COVID-19 testing services to eight.

Senator Bob Giuda, R-Warren, said he opposed the FEMA proposal because it was supposed to “prevent” a virus that cannot be controlled while the hospital bed capacity plan is to treat disease.

“We continue to pursue this short-lived goal of containing something that continues to mutate at an alarming rate and spread across the globe,” said Giuda.

Rep. Jess Edwards, R-Auburn, said the Biden government’s vaccination mandate for healthcare workers has created further staff shortages.

Shibinette noted that a federal judge last week suspended that mandate for New Hampshire and 10 other states.

“I think these are a very, very small group of people,” Shibinette said of those who left their health care jobs instead of getting vaccinated.

Lawyers from Rebuild NH and several other organizations have harshly criticized Sununu for supporting a private employer’s right to require a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment.

Activists opposing vaccine mandates stood up at the last finance session last month, when the panel voted 6 to 4 to accept federal grants to expand vaccine shipments and fill a vaccination registry entirely.

None of the protesters showed up for the meeting on Thursday.

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