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As Nursing Homes Bear Worst of Pandemic, Sununu Warns 'Toughest Days Are Ahead'

Crotched Mountain Foundation

State public health officials on Wednesday announced five new coronavirus deaths in New Hampshire, all of them tied to long-term care facilities. The new numbers made clear, for the first time, the extent to which New Hampshire nursing homes have borne the most severe impacts of the pandemic in the state.

Ten of the 18 people who have died of COVID-19 in New Hampshire lived in nursing homes or other rehabilitation sites, where older and sicker populations are particularly vulnerable to the virus. The number of infections at long-term care facilities continues to grow, and state officials warned Wednesday that the death count is likely to rise as well.

“Some of our toughest days are really still ahead of us,” Gov. Chris Sununu said at a news briefing in Concord.

Three residential care facilities, in particular, have experienced more than half of all coronavirus-related deaths in the state. At The Huntington assisted living facility in Nashua, five residents have died of COVID-19. Nineteen residents and 11 staff members there have tested positive for the virus. At Manchester’s Hanover Hill nursing home, four residents have died of the illness, while 37 residents and 13 staff have tested positive for COVID-19. And at Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center, a Greenfield facility that offers residential and day programs for people living with disabilities, one resident has died, while three residents and 11 staff have tested positive for the virus.

Officials have not released a complete list of facilities affected by the virus and declined to name any last week. They said they changed course Wednesday because the outbreaks at the three facilities had grown much more serious.

“When it gets to the point where public health has to get involved, and we continue to see escalating numbers over several days, that’s when we feel like public notification is really important,” said New Hampshire Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette.

Shibinette said at least 10 other residential facilities have seen cases of COVID-19, though none at the scale of Hanover Hill, The Huntington or Crotched Mountain.

Shibinette said that testing and personal protective equipment were not limiting factors in the facilities’ ability to contain the virus. Yet many people working in the state’s healthcare field have warned of current or pending shortages of such gear as the state prepares for a possible rise in COVID-10 infections. Just this week, Hanover Hill, on its Facebook page, expressed thanks for a recent shipment of protective medical equipment from the state Department of Health and Human Services Emergency Services Unit, yet indicated that it was still insufficient.

“We are so thankful but we need more,” the Facebook post read.

And on Wednesday, Sununu expressed his own frustration with the state’s access to medical equipment to fight coronavirus. He said that coronavirus testing machines provided by the federal government to provide quick results came with insufficient chemical reagents, so only two of the 15 machines are functional.

Sununu indicated long-term care facilities, such as those seeing spikes in COVID-19 deaths, would be an ideal place to deploy such equipment.

“To actually have 13 of these devices, and have no way to use them — I’m banging my head against the wall, I really am,” Sununu said. “It’s really frustrating.”

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.

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