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Hiring of temp nurses allowing hospital unit to open

By DAVE SOLOMON
New Hampshire Union Leader

June 02. 2016 8:28AM



CONCORD - A 10-bed mental health crisis unit at New Hampshire Hospital that has been collecting dust for nearly a year is expected to open in July, thanks to an Executive Council vote approving $4.5 million in contracts with staffing agencies to provide registered nurses amid a statewide nursing shortage.

Although the cost of hiring temps will be higher than paying staff positions, according to Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey A. Meyers, the state has not been able to recruit the nurses needed after months of trying and can no longer delay putting the much-needed beds into service.

The money will come from existing appropriations for Health and Human Services. The council approval was needed for the initial contract with MAS Medical Staffing Corp. of Londonderry, with other agencies expected to come on line in the months ahead.

“There is an imperative to open this 10-bed unit,” Meyers told the governor and council. “Construction was completed some time ago, so there is an expectation to use it.”

The new wing of the state psychiatric hospital was completed in July 2015, although recruitment could not begin until October because of last summer's state budget impasse.

“There are people waiting in emergency departments around the state for services at New Hampshire Hospital,” said Meyers. “To prevent any further delay, I authorized the development of a contract with a staffing agency that will bring in the necessary nurses while we continue to recruit for our full-time nursing staff.”

The difficulty in recruitment has persisted despite the fact that the rate of pay for nurses at the hospital was increased by 15 percent in January. Of 117 nursing positions, nearly 20 percent remained vacant as of April, double the vacancy rate of 2014, according to the report Meyers provided to the council.

The vacancies have created what Meyers calls “a crisis in staffing” that has made it necessary to require every registered nurse at the hospital to work a minimum of eight hours of overtime per two-week pay period.

An additional 12 positions were authorized in the current budget cycle for the new unit, called the “Inpatient Stabilization Unit.” Six have already been hired, said Meyers, giving him confidence that the unit will be ready to receive patients in July with some help from the staffing agencies.

As of April 1, there were 50 people on a waiting list for the 158-bed state hospital. According to the most recent report from the Treatment Advocacy Center in Arlington, Va., New Hampshire lost 31 psychiatric-care beds between 2010 and 2016.

“Even taking into account those 10 extra beds, the state will still not have the beds necessary to meet the needs of its population with severe mental illness,” said Jamie Mondics, TAC's communications director. “Our report notes that the state currently only has 23 percent of target beds per capita.”

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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