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Rising COVID-19 Cases In N.H. Exacerbate Healthcare Workforce Shortages

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New Hampshire hospitals and health care facilities have long struggled to recruit and retain workers, especially licensed nursing assistants.

Recent data from the New Hampshire Board of Nursing shows the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the shortage of health care workers in the state.

Roxie Severance is a health care advisor working with the state to recruit more health care workers to New Hampshire. NHPR's Emily Quirk spoke with Severance about this workforce crisis.

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Emily Quirk: This workforce shortage has been a longstanding issue in New Hampshire. Can you remind us why it's so hard to get LNAs and nurses to come work in the state?

Roxie Severance: I think what it comes down to is low wages. And I'll speak first to long term care facilities that 65 percent of the long term care facilities in the state of New Hampshire have residents who are on the Medicaid benefits. And the state of New Hampshire pays one of the lowest Medicaid rates in the nation, and that certainly affects the ability of the nursing homes to pay a higher wage. I also think that in hospitals and long term care, that nurses aid is a very hard job. You know, you're working a lot of long hours, and particularly now with COVID-19, people are working a lot of overtime. It's just is really a hard job to recruit people to.

Emily Quirk: According to the New Hampshire Board of Nursing, thousands of LNAs in the state have allowed their licenses to lapse in the last year, leaving nursing homes especially, to struggle with staffing. How has the pandemic made the workforce shortage even worse?

Roxie Severance: Well, it's made it worse because just the need is so much greater. And so now, these LNAs and nurses are having to work overtime continually because there's not enough regular staffing in place. A lot of LNAs, when COVID-19 hit their facility, some chose to leave. And they left because they were taking care of parents, and grandparents and children who might have been compromised medically. You know, they didn't want to risk bringing home COVID-19 to them. And so we lost a lot more people during that time and it certainly widened the gap.

Emily Quirk: What does this mean for facilities as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise?

Roxie Severance: Well, it means that people aren't receiving the quality care that New Hampshire is known for. When there's not enough staff and you're also working people a lot of overtime, tired staff means that people aren't doing the quality care work that they were trained to do.

Emily Quirk: The pandemic has certainly brought this problem more to the forefront, but it won't go away after the pandemic. So what will a long term solution to staffing shortages among essential medical staff look like?

Roxie Severance: Well, I think a lot of training and getting funds so that we can provide ease of training for people and perhaps helping them get their training. So one of the things that New Hampshire has is that you can get reimbursed 100 percent for your LNA training costs and testing, but you have to pay up front. And so we've been trying to find programs to help people pay for it, because many people cannot afford to wait for the reimbursement because it takes six weeks. And so, a lot of the people who are applying for these jobs do not have the upfront money.

The LNA program is a great feeder program for people to become licensed nursing assistants and registered nurses. And if we do not take the time now to get more people into LNA careers, then we're not going to be able to get them into the nursing programs. And we definitely need all of them. We need LNAs, we need licensed practical nurses, and we need registered nurses to be able to complete the health care services that so many of the hospitals and nursing homes provide.

Emily has worked for NPR member stations since 2007. Before joining the NHPR staff in 2012, she served as local host for All Things Considered as well as Director of Business and Foundation Support for KUSP, Santa Cruz, CA. While living in Santa Cruz, she also produced 2 weekly music programs Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Free Radio Santa Cruz) and Taste of Honey (KUSP).
Mary McIntyre is a senior producer at NHPR. She manages the station's news magazines, Morning Edition and All Things Considered. You can email her at mmcintyre@nhpr.org.

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