Dave Solomon's State House Dome: Anonymity for injured health workers soughtBy DAVE SOLOMON
September 30. 2017 6:32PM
SEVERAL HEALTH care workers at state-run facilities like New Hampshire Hospital and the Sununu Center have been injured by patients this year, and Executive Councilor Joe Kenney doesn't like the fact that their names and injuries are made public.
Kenney raised the issue with Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers on Wednesday, as the council considered another request for continued pay and benefits to a health care worker injured at a state-run institution, the Sununu Youth Services Center.
"We have a lot of 'in the line of duty' injuries," said Kenney, alluding to recent coverage of the issue in the New Hampshire Union Leader. "Sometimes, state employees don't want their names in the newspaper saying they were injured. Is there a way to temper that type of publicity?"
Meyers explained that the department needs Executive Council approval to certify the commissioner's determination that the workplace injury qualifies for continued pay and benefits, and that the documentation provided is part of the public record.
"I understand the concern that some individuals may not want the circumstances of these instances publicized," he said, "but we are limited by state law. Based on state law and how it is practiced today, in those items that do come before the council, the individuals are identified."
The Legislature would have to specifically exempt such material from disclosure, and Gov. Chris Sununu would have to sign the change into law.
"I'd be happy to work with the Legislature to revisit this," said Meyers.
Kenney urged him to do so. "I'm not so sure that if I'm injured at a state facility, I want everyone to know, so please work with the Legislature," he said.
Ironically, one of the health care workers whose case was made public recently says she felt "a sense of intrusion" at first, but was ultimately motivated to seek improvements in protections for health care workers at places like the Sununu Center and New Hampshire Hospital.
At the urging of registered nurse June Garen, state Sen. Jim Gray has been working with various stakeholders on the issue. One thing they all seem to agree on is that more aggressive reporting of injuries to health care workers is needed, since under-reporting of the problem is seen as widespread.
The Department of Transportation is holding hearings throughout the state on the 10-year transportation plan, setting out priorities from 2019-2028, and Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess wants to know why the second largest city in the state is not included in a schedule of 19 hearings from Sept. 11 to Oct. 26.
The hearings are traditionally hosted by the executive councilor for the district in which the meeting is held, and in the case of Nashua, that would be Republican David Wheeler of Milford. Donchess, a Democrat, recently wrote to Wheeler, asking him to schedule a session in Nashua.
Wheeler says a Sept. 11 hearing in Merrimack could have accommodated Nashua officials. "We have good distribution geographically throughout the state," he said. "That's the baseline. Why didn't they send someone to Merrimack, right next door?"
Donchess says he was expecting a hearing in Nashua, as has traditionally been the case. "We were aware that there was going to be a hearing in Merrimack, but we assumed there was going to be one in Nashua as well," he said. "I don't think that's asking too much."
The city has some high-profile priorities it would like to pursue, he said, including projects related to rail service; an Exit 36 South on Route 3, which would create another ramp to the mall district; and a connector from the newly developed, multiuse Gateway Hills project in South Nashua to the turnpike.
Wheeler isn't ruling out the idea, pending further discussion with Donchess.
Democratic Councilor Andru Volinsky raised the matter at Wednesday's council breakfast, and said he would host a Nashua hearing with DOT officials if Wheeler does not.
Sununu did not appreciate that suggestion. "I was told in no uncertain terms that would be discourteous, but it's more important to me that the people of Nashua have an opportunity to be heard in the 10-year process than being courteous," said Volinsky.
According to Wheeler, who was looking into alternatives, the protocol will not be broken. "DOT is not going to have a hearing in my district unless I authorize it," he said.