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Dave Solomon's State House Dome: Alarm sounds over health worker shortage

December 23. 2016 11:38PM
Nursing students Erin Murphy of Deerfield and Ken Williams of Manchester work in a simulation lab at Manchester Community College on Friday. New Hampshire is experiencing a nursing shortage, particularly in the area of senior care. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

THE GOVERNOR'S COMMISSION on Health Care Workforce released its final report last week and added yet another voice to the chorus of warnings about the staffing crisis facing health-care providers in the state.

The commission was established by executive order of Gov. Maggie Hassan in April, and brought together a variety of experts and stakeholders with the goal of helping the state develop of strategy to deal with the problem.

New Hampshire Union Leader reporter Gretchen Grosky documented the impact of the nursing shortage on elderly services last Sunday in the latest installment of her series on aging, "Silver Linings."

That's just the tip of the iceberg, according to the commission, which warned that 20 to 25 percent of all new jobs needed over the next decade will be in the health-care sector and the flow of new talent is nowhere near that level.

The commission's recommendations can be summed up in four points:
  • Reduce government barriers and delays in state licensing approval and criminal background checks for new health-care hires;
  • Gather more data of the current health care workforce and use that data to project future health care and direct support workforce needs;
  • Continue to enhance educational programs, develop new and innovative training programs, and enhance retraining programs; and
  • Raise Medicaid reimbursement rates so health-care providers can pay wages that reflect the competitive market.

The problem is further complicated by the fact that most of New Hampshire is competing with the Boston area for health-care talent. "An additional theme relates to the shared border with Massachusetts and its capital, Boston," according to the report. "The appeal of higher salaries, as well as the social atmosphere of a large city, is a factor in retention for many New Hampshire communities near the border and in rural areas of the state."

Sununu's slap at Manchester

Gov.-elect Chris Sununu raised some eyebrows last week at a community meeting when he said Manchester is having a difficult time attracting and keeping young people.

During an interview, Sununu praised the city for building its manufacturing base and becoming a welcoming place for companies to expand. But Sununu said the state's largest city is failing to come across as a "hip and happening place" for young people when competing against other urban areas like Boston.

"We have to find a way to get the younger workers to live and want to move to these areas," Sununu said.

He said Manchester's reputation for having a higher percentage of residents with substance abuse problems and some under-performing public schools are both marks against it.

"I don't want to single Manchester out for not having some great success stories because they do," Sununu said. "There are lots of places in the state that have had similar challenges."

The city's solution lies in better marketing of what Manchester's assets are and Sununu said the state needs to be a willing partner in helping make that case.

Jasper's 'chosen'

House Speaker Shawn Jasper announced his leadership team last week, with some predictable picks and a few surprises.

Former Speaker Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, entering his 18th term, will serve once again as Deputy Speaker.

Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, a veteran of 13 terms, will serve as Speaker Pro Tempore (acting speaker).

Rep. Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, entering his fifth term, returns as the Majority Leader with Rep. John Graham, R-Bedford, as his deputy.

The Finance Committee, instrumental in forming the next state budget, will be chaired once again by Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare.

The Ways and Means Committee, which considers and reports all bills and resolutions relating to raising money, will be chaired again by Rep. Norman Major, R-Plaistow.

The quid pro quo

The appointments drew little attention except for a decision by Jasper to name State Rep. Frank Sapareto, R-Derry, as vice chair of the Criminal Justice Committee.

Sapareto was convicted of assaulting two people during a domestic dispute involving his former girlfriend and her son in 2013, and later tried to have legislation approved that would reduce the severity of such crimes.

His bill, which failed, would have reduced assaults that do not result in physical harm to a violation, not a misdemeanor.

Jasper came under immediate criticism by Democrats for the appointment, and acknowledged that it was payback for Sapareto's support during the vote for House Speaker within the Republican caucus.

Jasper was two votes short, as he attempted to fight off legitimate challenges from State Rep. Laurie Sanborn, R-Bedford, and Carole McGuire, R-Epsom. Sapareto threw his hat into the ring at the last minute, after returning to the House in the November election. He had three votes in his court, and Jasper needed two to win.

"I'm very disappointed in this decision by the Speaker," said Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley. "Appointing someone with a criminal record to chair the Criminal Justice Committee would be inappropriate in any circumstances, but to do it in exchange for an endorsement is reprehensible."

Sapareto ends up number two on Criminal Justice, while McGuire will chair Executive Departments and Administration, and serve as vice chair on the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules.

Sanborn, a four-term representative who but for a handful of votes would be House Speaker, was appointed a rank-and-file member to Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

Sentimental sign-off

The final two weeks of the year are ripe with sentimental moments at the State House, particularly after an election triggers a changing of the guard.

After his final Executive Council meeting on Wednesday, unsuccessful Democratic gubernatorial candidate Colin Van Ostern wrote a heart-felt farewell to his supporters, pointing out that "Most of the job of governing - like most in life - is about showing up."

He recalled a time halfway through his term, in the middle of the Fairpoint labor strike two years ago, "when I fielded calls and emails every day for months from constituents who needed help with a bad phone line, Internet connection, or other symptom of falling through the cracks."

"I distinctly remember an email I received from a gentleman in Rochester. The telephone pole in front of his house had been scheduled for replacement, but the strike happened shortly after the new pole was dropped off on his front lawn - and there it sat, all winter.

"When he read that I was hosting Fairpoint executives and state regulators for a public hearing in Rochester to hear from local citizens, he wrote to ask for help.

"He wrote, 'I am a 70 year old man who lives alone and it seems now-a-day's nobody cares.'

"The promise of New Hampshire is that we do care," wrote Van Ostern. "I've seen that promise fulfilled in a million ways in the past four years, and for that, I am grateful."


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