By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Gov. Chris Sununu called reporters into his office Wednesday after the Executive Council meeting to return to pre-pandemic press briefings addressing an array of questions.
It’s time to stop the televised press conferences at the state’s emergency preparedness headquarters because the number of COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations have plummeted, Sununu said.
And he expects that to be the case for the foreseeable future.
There were no new COVID-19 deaths reported Wednesday and hospitalizations were down to 47.
Rep. Renny Cushing
If the legislature passed it, Sununu said he would be open to the idea of naming a new psychiatric hospital named in honor of the late state Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton.
Cushing stepped aside as House Minority Leader last week and died on Monday after a long-fought battle with cancer.
“We didn’t agree on politics a whole lot, but he was always an affable individual. He would always come in and tell you exactly what was on his mind and do it in the right way.
“So, by all means, if the legislature wants to, I can’t do that myself, I’m not allowed to do it, but if the legislature would take that up, I think it would be a great way to honor him. But it is up to them,” Sununu said.
The idea for naming the new hospital expected to be built on the grounds of the New Hampshire Hospital after Cushing was the idea of Wanda Duryea and Beatrice Coulter, founders of Advocates for Ethical Mental Health Treatment.
They also fought for the new hospital that is expected to serve mentally ill people who are deemed too dangerous to themselves or others to stay in the New Hampshire Hospital, the state’s psychiatric facility. They are often people who have been committed as incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity and are currently held in the Secure Psychiatric Unit of the state prison for men in Concord.
In an op-ed in InDepthNH.org, Coulter and Duryea proposed naming the hospital after Cushing.
“(Cushing) was a tireless advocate when it came to the Secure Psychiatric Unit and its issues…As the planning for the new forensic hospital continues, let’s remember the man who fought tirelessly for the forgotten population of mentally ill individuals in the prison,” Coulter and Duryea wrote.
From now on the press will be briefed after Council meetings, Sununu said.
Sununu said he is still focused on COVID-19 and believes there may be a surge next winter, but assured the state would be ready.
Using the tools that have been developed over the past two years, and information that is now known about the virus, his team will be ready to deploy protective action going forward, Sununu said.
Sununu said he and his team, including state epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan, and Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette, who have been by his side for more than 120 briefings in two years, will be looking internationally at trends and surveillance on possible variants and the efficacies of drugs and needed boosters to combat the virus going forward.
On another topic, Sununu said he is not pleased with the current political redistricting maps and stopped short of committing to veto it in its present form, but said he was hopeful that some revisions could be made before it makes it to his desk.
In the half-hour he spent with reporters for The Union Leader, InDepthNH.org, and WMUR who attended the Council meeting, Sununu lauded the return of the legislature to its House chamber in Representatives Hall as expected Thursday.
Sununu said it is a good sign that the 400-member House of Representatives will return to its chamber on Thursday for the first time since the pandemic.
He noted that having them back in the State House is essential for collaboration and compromise and bipartisan solutions. Sununu said this opens again the opportunity to see each other in the lunchroom, the hallways, and next to each other in committee meetings to come to good legislative solutions.
Several members with health risks that could result in death if they contracted COVID-19 may disagree. They sued in U.S. District Court to attend the sessions remotely, including then-Democratic Leader Cushing who died Monday.
The group claimed the Americans with Disabilities Act required they be accommodated.
The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals has yet to release an opinion and last week the disabled Democrats filed a motion seeking an expedited decision, but none has been forthcoming to date.
Moving back to historic Representatives Hall may mean a few more Democrats are likely to stay home.
At home in his office, Sununu looked around the room at the furniture and the photos on the wall.
He was asked if anything had changed in the corner office in the last two years and he said, essentially, “no.”