By Rep. MARJORIE PORTER, D-Hillsborough
Every year around this time, state representatives from Hillsborough County are kept busy performing their duties as members of the County Delegation. The County Commissioners, with the help of their department heads, develop the yearly budget, and it is our job to oversee, amend, and approve it.
For quite a few years now, I’ve been fortunate to serve on the Nursing Home budget subcommittee. We’re very proud of our nursing home in Hillsborough County. It’s well run, has an excellent reputation, and is a solid source of revenue for the county. Not only that, but it’s a pleasant place to meet. The staff is cheerful, the residents seem active and happy, and they always serve us a hearty lunch.
But of course, this year, because of the pandemic, we could not hold our meeting there. No visitors have been allowed at the nursing home for several months, so we planned a Zoom meeting, scheduled for Monday morning, May 11.
This year I’m serving as chair, so I called Mr. Ross, the Nursing Home administrator, ahead of time to get our ducks in a row and chat a bit before the meeting. I was relieved when he told me there were no cases of the virus in the building, in either residents or staff, nor had there been. They were following strict protocols and taking every precaution to keep it that way but were set up and ready if things should change. He was cautiously optimistic.
That was Tuesday. On Friday, they found the first case. By Monday morning when we met, seventeen residents had tested positive, and all but three showed no symptoms. On Tuesday, the count was up to thirty. I’m writing on Wednesday, and dreading today’s report.
At the video meeting, Mr. Ross looked exhausted. He and his staff had had little sleep over the weekend, moving and isolating the infected residents, cleaning and disinfecting, testing and monitoring. There was such sadness in his voice when he said they had no idea how the virus got into the building. They did everything possible to keep it out. Because carriers of the disease can show no symptoms, they will never really know.
Our nursing home, like many others, is always short-staffed. Now that the virus is in the building, some staff are choosing to leave. They have young families, or vulnerable people at home. Mr. Ross was understanding. He cares deeply about the people there, both staff and residents. But it was clear he was worried about the difficult days ahead for patients and their families, and the overworked staff who will be risking their own lives caring for them.
There has been an outpouring of support and thanks given to these frontline healthcare workers in this crisis, and the governor has approved hazard pay for them. It’s about time we recognized their true worth to society and paid them accordingly.
There are other frontline workers, though, that we seem to have forgotten to appreciate in the same ways. These people get up every day and go to work, putting their own health at risk to serve the public because they are considered essential. Grocery workers, bank tellers, gas station attendants and convenience store workers.
My son is one such essential worker. He works in a small-town hardware store. It is open nine hours a day, six days a week, and has been throughout. They have been extraordinarily busy. And because many of their employees are self-quarantining at home, they are short staffed.
He’s explained to me how meticulously they work to keep the premises clean and sanitary. Whenever they have a spare minute, they’re cleaning. If someone comes into the store, and coughs or sneezes, they watch where the person goes and what they touch, and make sure to clean and disinfect as soon as possible afterwards.
They hand-sanitize after each customer and wash their hands with soap and water whenever they can. He sent me a picture of his hands. They are chapped and cracked from over-exposure to the drying sanitizer. Wearing gloves would help—but the gloves would protect HIM, not the customer, and the customer is their concern.
The store is too small for proper social distancing or one-way aisles They offer curbside pickup, and it is used, but many people seem to prefer wandering the aisles as usual, shopping for craft supplies or potting soil.
They are wearing masks but once again, the masks are to protect the customers. The workers are only protected by masks if the customers wear them too. Customers are not required to wear them. Many do not.
No one has gotten sick at the store yet, but as his mother I can tell the stress of daily possible exposure is wearing on him. He’s not sleeping well. He talks about “when I get sick” not “if I get sick.” He says he’s young and healthy, so he’ll probably be ok. Probably.
So far, their hard work has managed to hold the beast at bay. But now that we’re phasing in reopening the state, and more people are out and about interacting with each other, there is more risk of someone silently carrying the virus to them. He’s worried.
I heard someone say the other day that we should open up the state again, because the only people dying from COVID-19 in New Hampshire are people in poor health and over 60. I heard someone else say you can’t force me to wear a mask, it’s my body and I’m not afraid of getting sick. If you’re afraid, just stay home. Let the rest of us be free. LIBERTY after all.
Those 30 nursing home patients WERE at home. Someone brought the virus to them. Now they, their families, and the people who care for them, are very afraid.
And my son, and other essential workers like him, are stressed and worried. They have put their health at risk to make sure the rest of us can get the supplies and services we need to make it through this hard time. They’ve done all they can to protect you. Show your thanks and appreciation.
We are all in this together. Wear your mask. Wash your hands.