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Sununu Creates Panel To Advise on Reopening Economy, As Hospitals Say Losses Mount

Dan Tuohy / NHPR
A sign in the window of a Newmarket restaurant urges potential customers to be patient.

Gov. Chris Sununu has formed a task force to advise him on a potential phased reopening of the state’s economy. The task force includes state economic and tourism officials, chamber of commerce members, a chief of police, and leaders of industry groups representing retail merchants, restaurants and hospitals, as well as several lawmakers.

Sununu said the idea is to create what he called “guidance documents” to allow businesses to reopen when and where it is safe to do so.

“If you do it too fast, and without really looking at the date and potential consequences of that, you could be right back in the same situation, but a much worse situation, and then you would see that second surge or third surge, potentially,” Sununu said at a Concord press conference Tuesday.

Sununu said the state has almost drained the $50 million fund created last month to help health care providers, who continue to struggle due to lost revenue from the pandemic response. Sununu said among the things he’s considering to make life easier for hospitals is to allow them to resume performing elective surgeries.

New Hampshire hospitals say they are still struggling to survive the financial blow that preparations for COVID-19 have brought their way. Catholic Medical Center in Manchester on Tuesday announced furloughs and pay cuts for more than 40 percent of its staff, making it the latest hospital in the state to take such steps.

CMC said 423 employees are being placed on a 60-day furlough, while another 914 are having their hours cut. Hospital management is also taking a pay cut. Employees affected by the cuts will be able to keep their health insurance, the hospital announced.

CMC said in a statement that it expects to lose more than $60 million by the end of June because of the coronavirus pandemic, including the decision to delay elective surgeries to free up hospital space and preserve personal protective medical equipment. The hospital said it lost about $11 million in March alone and that federal relief funds haven’t been enough to make up the difference.

Emergency preparations for the coronavirus have resulted in more than half of the hospital’s inpatient beds being empty each night.

CMC has applied for a loan from the state’s emergency healthcare system relief fund but said it hasn’t heard back yet.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.
Jason Moon is a senior reporter and producer on the Document team. He has created longform narrative podcast series on topics ranging from unsolved murders, to presidential elections, to secret lists of police officers.
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