As COVID-19 cases rise, Gov. Chris Sununu on Monday reactivated $300-per-week extra stipends through the end of 2020 for frontline health care workers in long-term settings who care for residents on Medicaid.
The move brings back the state’s Long Term Care Stabilization Program Sununu announced last April to give additional payments to encourage workers to stay on the job as the state faced a few dozen viral outbreaks in nursing homes.
The earlier program paid out nearly $68 million from April through the end of last June, which included $150-per-week for part-time workers.
Sununu also earmarked another $30 million in federal support for nursing homes in the state on Monday.
“The state of New Hampshire remains committed to ensuring that long-term care facilities have the resources needed to confront the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sununu said in a statement. “Due to the rise in cases in New Hampshire, there remains an acute need to retain our health care workforce, and today’s announcement will help make sure we continue to have the system in place for those who rely on this care.”
Sununu did not rule out extending the payments, but the Dec. 31 deadline coincides with spending under the federal CARES Act.
New Hampshire got a $1.2 billion block grant under the CARES Act.
Spending CARES Act grant
Last week, Sununu administration officials said the state had committed all but $38 million of the grant.
Under the CARES ACT, all money given to a state and not spent by Dec. 30, must be returned to the federal treasury.
Last week, state officials confirmed three new outbreaks in long-term care. They include the state Veterans Home in Tilton, where nine residents and two staff had the virus, and the Prospect-Woodward Home, an assisted living facility in Keene that had eight residents and two staff infected.
The third outbreak at the Coos County Nursing Hospital in West Stewartstown was reported earlier.
Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said late last week the state was dealing with seven active long-term care outbreaks.
“As our community transmission levels go up we expect to see more nursing home outbreaks,” Shibinette said.
More than 80% of fatalities linked to COVID-19 in New Hampshire came from long-term care, one of the highest rates of any state in the country.
State officials said the proportional volume of virus cases at nursing homes in New Hampshire was lower than many states in the Northeast.
Sununu said the long-term care industry faced a nationwide nursing shortage that was severe even before the global pandemic.
During last week’s briefing, Sununu said it was especially hard to fill nursing vacancies in rural areas such as West Stewartstown, where 33 staff were in quarantine or unable to work at the county nursing hospital there.
“We are turning over every stone; we really are,” Sununu said, “We know it’s a major issue, it is one of the single biggest issues, managing the health care workforce.”