More nurses, FEMA teams coming to cope with COVID-19 hospitalization crunch

Gov. Chris Sununu

State officials announced Wednesday that reinforcements are on their way to help cope with the recent surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

A wave of newly licensed nurses and federal teams of health care professionals will administer anti-viral treatments.

Gov. Chris Sununu praised the federal government’s decision Wednesday to send teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to offer monoclonal antibody treatments.

Starting Jan. 3, the FEMA teams will work at Elliot Hospital in Manchester, Concord Hospital and the Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital in Lebanon.

Sununu had requested these antibody treatment teams last week.

“I would like to thank the federal government for listening to our calls and sending these resources as we continue to fight this winter surge,” Sununu said.

Monoclonal antibody treatments have been found to be effective in avoiding long-term hospitalization for anyone who is symptomatic and tests positive for COVID-19.

“Providing additional teams to expand capacity to administer these time-critical treatments will ease some of the burden on our already strained hospital staff,” said Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette. “We are grateful for the assistance to help our hospital system and save lives.”

The news came as the state announced another 15 deaths from COVID-19, the third straight day of high fatality counts.

Since last Thursday, 64 COVID-19 deaths have been recorded; over the past week, the state has averaged 9.4 deaths per day.

According to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, this was the deadliest period since the week ending Jan. 27, when the state averaged 10 deaths a day.

The deadliest stretch for New Hampshire since the pandemic began was the two-week period ending Jan. 7 when there were nearly 12 deaths each day.

Hospitalizations reported Wednesday were at 386, five fewer than the previous day. The state reported 1,165 new COVID cases.

A few weeks ago, COVID-19 hospitalizations reached nearly 450, an all-time high for the state.

Two-thirds not vaccinated

New Hampshire Hospital Association President and CEO Steve Ahnen said these antibody teams will provide great assistance as hospitals face workforce shortages.

“The next few weeks are going to be incredibly challenging,” Ahnen said Wednesday on the “Good Morning New Hampshire” radio talk show program.

Earlier this week, the hospital association issued its first comprehensive report on the level of vaccination among hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

Of the 391 people hospitalized as of Monday, 255 (65%) were not vaccinated, 90 were fully vaccinated and eight were partially vaccinated. The status of the remaining 38 was not known.

These new FEMA teams are the third response from the federal government to help New Hampshire.

Earlier in December, FEMA sent a team of health care professionals that allowed Elliot Hospital to open an unused wing.

Last week, the federal government sent 30 emergency medical technicians the state dispatched to help relieve pressure on the most overcrowded hospital emergency rooms in the state.

New nursing licenses

In another development, Sununu confirmed that over the past three weeks the state Office of Professional Licensing and Certification (OLPC) had issued licenses to 658 nurses.

Last month, Sununu signed an executive order directing the OPLC to come up with ways to streamline the licensing process to cope with a chronic nursing shortage in the midst of the hospitalization bed crunch.

“We are breaking down barriers to ensure our health care system has the staffing needed to respond to this winter surge, and I would like to thank OPLC for their expedited work in helping get nurses on the front lines of our hospitals,” Sununu said.

OPLC Director Lindsey Courtney said the agency continues to work on identifying ways to completely erase a backlog of nursing license applications.

Lindsey said the agency in a typical week would license 100 to 150 nurses.

Lindsey said her staff completed many of these new licenses by reaching out to applicants who hadn’t finished their paperwork.

The state Board of Nursing also assisted, voting to permit the state to issue licenses pending the completion of criminal background checks, she said.

Another step Sununu took via executive order was to keep permitting out-of-state nurses to work in New Hampshire hospitals without state licensing privileges.

This permission was to end Jan. 1, but Sununu’s order extended it through the end of June 2022.