By state Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord
Everyone has a role to play in our democracy. Everyone’s voice is critical. Every voice, in a time of crisis, is needed and must be heard.
Politics isn’t a game. Politics is a form of public service. At its best, it can serve to unify, lift people up, and help solve our collective problems.
That is why it is so troubling that every time someone speaks up or raises their concerns about the COVID-19 response or reopening, Governor Chris Sununu says they are “playing politics.” That approach functions as a dismissal of the voices of others. It shuts the door to an open conversation and critical input and casts it all as political.
It quiets voices of dissent. It quiets good ideas. It quiets even the press.
But, no one should be quiet. This democracy doesn’t belong to one person. It belongs to all of us. We’re all in this together. Especially right now.
And there are critical problems that simply cannot wait until the next election.
What’s happening at our nursing homes and long-term care facilities right now is heartbreaking. Well-over 100 Granite Staters have been lost to COVID-19. New Hampshire recently made national news with one of the worst long-term care outbreaks in the country with nearly 80% of New Hampshire’s deaths from COVID-19 are Granite Staters in these facilities.
In some long-term care facilities, entire hallways of residents have been lost. Residents are seeing their friends pass away, and families of residents on the outside are praying every day their loved ones will survive. We never expected to have zero cases in long-term care, and of course, it was going to be a challenge to protect everyone, but New Hampshire should not be making headlines for having one of the worst long-term care COVID-19 crises in the country.
As a former legal aid attorney who had the honor of representing folks in long-term care, I can tell you that these folks are among society’s most vulnerable.
The simple fact is this: Governor Sununu failed to take the steps necessary to protect these vulnerable residents from COVID-19. He failed to plan for what everyone knew was coming, what other states, like Massachusetts, were able to plan for. He failed to undertake widespread testing in long-term care, which was called for weeks ago. He failed, and is failing, to provide adequate PPE in long-term care. And, as of May 8, out of a $45 million dollar fund created on April 14th to support long-term care facilities, Governor Sununu has spent less than 4% to support long-term care, just over $1.7 million of the $45 million.
It is a disheartening but simple fact, that the first significant step Governor Sununu took on long-term care wasn’t until April 15 and it was to test, long-term workers in only two counties. No testing of residents. This was done through an insufficient no-bid contract, that went to a private, for-profit corporation that is a major campaign contributor to Governor Sununu.
The CDC guidelines recommended all long-term care residents and all long-term care workers be tested routinely in order to prevent and mitigate outbreaks. And adequate PPE must be provided. None of that has happened under Governor Sununu. Based on an announcement just last week, it appears all residents may get their first test. It’s a good step, but it’s not enough, it should not have taken this long, and much more work needs to be done.
It has been said that: ‘the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members’. If you want this administration to do better by our most vulnerable, then you need to speak up. Even if it is uncomfortable. Even if it is difficult. Even if someone may try to label you as “playing politics.”
New Hampshire has never been a place with no dissent in our democracy, and it shouldn’t become that now. New Hampshire has always been a place where we solve tough problems together, and we must do it again right now.
(Dan Feltes is a former legal aid attorney with New Hampshire Legal Assistance and lives in the South End of Concord with his wife, Erin, and their two daughters, Iris and Josie. Dan serves as state senator for Concord, Henniker, Hopkinton, Penacook and Warner, and as the Senate’s majority leader. In the 2020 election, Dan is running to serve as governor.)
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