By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Republican Gov. Chris Sununu didn’t respond again Thursday to questions about donations he received from a co-founder of ConvenientMD, a for-profit healthcare organization that has already been approved for a $1.6 million loan that Sununu can convert into a grant at his discretion.
ConvenientMD was also selected to do the testing at nursing homes in Hillsborough and Rockingham counties and is involved in the expanded testing announced Wednesday.
Sununu dismissed InDepthNH.org’s questions at the end of the news conference Wednesday about the campaign donations calling them “politically motivated nonsense.” On Thursday he didn’t respond to questions about how much the company is being paid and whether it is replacing work that could be done by struggling hospitals that gave up lucrative elective surgeries to make room for COVID-19 patients that didn’t materialize in the volume anticipated.
A review of political donor records on the Secretary of State’s website showed ConvenientMD co-founder Max Puyanic, Tamar Puyanic and ConvenientMD donated at least $11,000 to Sununu’s gubernatorial campaigns, but Sununu won’t say if that affected his decisions on the business.
InDepthNH.org reached out to Puyanic through ConvenientMD, but he didn’t respond Thursday. Puyanic stepped back from his role as CEO in February. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mark Pundt was placed at the helm at that time and he did not respond to an email Thursday.
Sununu took to the radio Thursday morning on Jack Heath’s NH Today applauding ConvenientMD and blasting the Executive Council for voting on Wednesday to table the state’s request to withdraw $950 million from the treasury claiming lack of sufficient information from the governor’s office.
“I had people taking political shots yesterday at ConvenientMD, the nurses and doctors at ConvenientMD, ” Sununu said on Heath’s show. “They think we should cancel that contract. It’s because of organizations like that and Clear Choice and these urgent care centers that are standing up all across the state that allows us to do all this new testing.”
Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, D-Concord, and state Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, both gubernatorial candidates, have been critical of Sununu during the state of emergency over transparency. They and the state Legislative Fiscal Committee say Sununu shouldn’t be able to spend $1.25 billion in federal Cares Act funds without oversight.
“People are trying to make political hay during a crisis,” Sununu said. “I think it’s frankly terrible behavior. We’re just putting our heads down and getting it done.”
Sununu criticized Democrats saying, “They are searching for headlines in a crisis. I’m hoping at some point they stop the nonsense and let us do our job.”
Sununu insisted every meeting about spending the money is public.
“Every dollar we spend it is public. It’s all going to be published on the website,” Sununu said.
Feltes, who has been calling for the cancellation of ConvenientMD’s contract and for weeks has demanded more nursing home testing, said what’s happening at long-term care facilities right-now is heartbreaking.
“The public and the families of residents are owed more information and more transparency. The first significant step Governor Sununu took to try to help long-term care facilities was entering into an insufficient, no-bid contract with a major campaign contributor. That’s unacceptable,” Feltes said.
Volinsky said it was an unprecedented 4-1 bipartisan vote on his motion to table the state’s request to withdraw $950 million from the treasury, and it will be taken up again at the May 20 Executive Council meeting.
“Governor Chris Sununu dismissed the entire Executive Council’s demands for transparency in an unhinged rant (on Heath’s show), saying ‘no one cares what they think.’ He then went on to claim the Council’s actions are tied to COVID-19 deaths,” Volinsky said.
“Here’s what it boiled down to: the governor created a plan to give away $50 million to healthcare concerns. He did it by calling it a loan, it’s not, it’s a grant, it’s already done,” Volinsky said.
Sununu told Heath he sounded upset because the state announced 19 more nursing home deaths on Wednesday, the day Sununu announced greatly expanded testing for the public and at nursing homes. It was the day after the state released for the first time the total number of nursing home deaths due to COVID-19 deaths and the 16 nursing homes that experienced Covid-19 clusters. Seventy-eight percent of COVID-19 deaths in New Hampshire are related to nursing homes, the highest percentage in the country.
The daily total COVID-19 data released Wednesday showed 84 nursing home deaths, but the state said there have been 87, but has not said where the other three deaths occurred.
“How can I not be upset when we had 20 people that died in long-term care facilities and these guys are trying to get political headlines? How is that appropriate,” Sununu said.
Volinsky later called Sununu “a coward” for not speaking up at the meeting.
At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, the state released totals showing three new deaths bringing the total to 114 and 104 new positive test results for COVID-19 bringing the total to 2,843.