By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – New Hampshire’s Congressional delegation and health-care leaders urged the Executive Council to reconsider their rejection of $27 million to boost COVID-19 vaccinations when they meet Wednesday.
In a Zoom press conference Monday, Dr. Don Caruso, CEO/President at Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene, said the rejection of the funds for staff and supplies to support public health clinics and state efforts at continued vaccinations comes at a really unprecedented time for the state’s health-care industry.
He said the state is facing a high plateau of COVID-19 cases which is going on for an extended period of time which is putting pressure on resources and staff.
“At the same time we actually had a lot of people who have delayed care,” Caruso said, and physicians are seeing much sicker people and way more volume that they cannot tolerate and staff is exhausted.
“This is really problematic,” he said, with health-care workers moving patients around the state daily to find places for their care and in some cases, curtailing elective surgeries.
And an angry U.S. Senator told the state’s four Republican Executive Councilors to “do their jobs and protect the health and safety of the people of this state” by reversing a 4-1 vote rejecting $27 million in federal funds.
The council’s only Democrat, Cinde Warmingon, voted in favor.
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and the all-Democratic New Hampshire congressional delegation joined with health-care leaders across the state in a Monday Zoom press conference to call out the Oct. 13 vote by Republican Executive Councilors Joe Kenney, Janet Stevens, Ted Gatsas, and David Wheeler to reject the funding based on what she called misinformation.
They said this is not a time for the state to be turning down such important funds and warned the consequences may mean a delay by months for state vaccinations for 125,000 teens who may be eligible for a vaccine and the state rollout of booster shots.
She noted accepting the money does not mean the state will require mandates to take the vaccines and the decision to reject the funding, fueled by angry protesters, was based on misinformation.
Ken Gordon, chief executive officer of Coos County Family Health Services, called the vote “an emotional gut-punch” for the health care community which is struggling with the highest hospitalization rates since last January.
Gordon called the money “essential” to deliver life-saving vaccinations.
U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas noted the move was “deeply concerning” and “clearly not based on science or even facts.”
“This is an incredibly important moment for our state,” he said.
In Washington, Pappas said the delegation has used every tool to stay ahead of the virus “and that’s why we fought to get these funds.”
By rejecting them, U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster said, to “appease the most extreme elements of their political base,” it would cause a slowdown in care for others because the hospitals are so full right now. She called the decision “shameful” and an “unforced error.”
Concord Hospital announced last week it has begun rescheduling select elective surgeries due to limited bed capacity related to the rise of COVID-19 hospitalizations and an increase in hospitalized patients requiring intensive care. Similar announcements were made last week by other hospitals, including Speare Memorial Hospital in Plymouth.
U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan noted that the denial of the funds will also delay an economic recovery. Hassan noted that while the Republican-controlled legislative fiscal committee approved almost $4.7 million in fairly unrestricted American Rescue Plan funds, Friday, it is still only about 20 percent of the rejected $27 million the delegation worked to get for the state.
And Shaheen said she does not see a waiver being offered to the state yet from the CDC on language which some councilors said they found to be possibly problematic.
Councilors got inundated with emails from individuals urging them not to accept the money that they said had broad language which could make it so that the federal government could impose future vaccination mandates for the state.
Both Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, and Attorney General John Formella said there was no such restrictive language in the contracts. Sununu said he would work to find ways to get the money, noting New Hampshire is the only state not to accept the funds.
The elected leaders said they would continue to work to find ways to get more federal dollars but Shaheen said the easiest thing would be for the councilors to reconsider and reverse their votes.