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September 21. 2012 12:52AM

Hassan's hepatitis claim: A shameless exploitation

Asked during their Wednesday debate to comment on the hepatitis C outbreak at Exeter Hospital earlier this year, both Republican candidate for governor Ovide Lamontagne and Democratic candidate Maggie Hassan stressed several times that “we don’t know all the facts.” Both suggested the state could learn from the outbreak to better protect the public in the future. Then Hassan thought of an angle to exploit. And exploit she did.

Lamontagne said “Health and Human Services was, I think, caught flat-footed, in terms of a communications plan if nothing else.” He said the state could “learn from that so that we have a rapid response plan in place...” in the future.

Host Laura Knoy asked Hassan if HHS was “caught flat-footed,” and the light bulb must have lit.

“Again, still wanting to find out more about what particularly happened, but let’s realize that the Department of Health and Human Services, along with our hospitals have been decimated by budget cuts that this Legislature put in place,” she said. Referring to the Legislature’s reduction in subsidies to New Hampshire hospitals, she said “that has made it difficult for all of our health care professionals and our entire health care system to provide the kind of health care that our citizens deserve. And they certainly deserve a Department of Health and Human Services with a public safety, a public health branch in it that is capable of rapid response, capable of helping figure out exactly who needs to be tested when, and capable of communicating with the public in a very vigorous way.”

Knoy asked, “Are you connecting the dots here, Ms. Hassan? Are you saying an underfunded Department of Health and Human Services, a stressed and perhaps underfunded hospital helped make this happen?”

Hassan did not back away. “They didn’t commit the crime, but in terms of the capacity to respond quickly to things, you do need to have people who have in their charge not only the duty and job description to work with hospitals and make sure that they’re safe, but you also have to have enough people within the provider community as well as the health and human services community to do the work that comes about when you have this kind of crisis, and it’s a very labor intensive thing. I just think it’s important to understand that it is easy to criticize state workers, it is easy to criticize health care facilities, but if they are not resourced at a level that allows them to do their job, we all bear some of the responsibility for that.”

A seemingly stunned Lamontagne called Hassan’s words “absolutely irresponsible” and “reckless,” pointing out that there is no evidence to back up the connection she had made that state funding contributed to the problems. In response, she did not deny making the connection, but further enforced it.

“It is reckless for anyone to suggest that you can just keep cutting with no consequences to our entire health care system,” she said.

But, of course, no one is suggesting that. And the next day, Hassan claimed that she did not make the connection, but merely made a general point about state budgeting. Hogwash. She tried to blame Republicans for the flawed response to the hepatitis C outbreak. We thought this was the kind of politics liberals in the Obama era were supposed to disdain.

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