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Staff vaccination to remain optional at New Hampshire Veterans Home

Chicago's Roseland Community Hospital Administers Covid Vaccinations To Hospital Staff
Scott Olson/Getty Images/New Hampshire Bulletin
Getty Images North America
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - DECEMBER 18: COVID-19 vaccine is stored at -80 degrees celsius in the pharmacy at Roseland Community Hospital on December 18, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. The hospital began distributing the COVID-19 vaccine to its workers yesterday. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

A state senator’s request for mandated staff vaccination at the New Hampshire Veterans Home, where 37 residents died of COVID-19 following a 2020 outbreak, appears unlikely to change the current policy of making vaccines optional – at least for now.

This story was originally published in New Hampshire Bulletin.

“The New Hampshire Veterans Home is constantly looking at the data and consulting with health care officials to determine the best action,” said Commandant Margaret LaBrecque in an emailed statement. “The Legislature has given us the flexibility regarding vaccination mandates if needed in the future. As commandant, I support personal choice but must weigh that against the risk to our residents and staff.”

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About 50 percent of staff had received a COVID-19 vaccine as of a March report on the home’s infection control practices during COVID-19, and fewer than 50 percent get a flu vaccine, which is offered onsite at no cost each year, the report said.

House Bill 220, signed by Gov. Chris Sununu in July, prohibits state, county, and local governments from mandating vaccines as a condition to “secure, receive, or access any public facility, any public benefit, or any public service,” making mandated staff vaccines illegal in public schools and most public workplaces.

Public health care settings, however, such as the state hospital, county nursing homes, and the state-run New Hampshire Veterans Home may mandate vaccines under the new law. The federal Department of Veterans Affairs announced in July it was requiring its 115,000 frontline health care workers to get a COVID-19 vaccine, saying it was “taking this necessary step to keep veterans it serves safe.”

Late last week, Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, a Nashua Democrat, cited the same goal when she called on Sununu to require staff in the state’s veterans home to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. “With the Delta variant surging across the state and the country, we should do everything possible to protect the residents of the (New Hampshire) Veterans Home,” she said.

Sununu said residents have taken steps to protect themselves. “The most important news is that 99 percent of all veterans home residents are vaccinated, which is the number one thing an individual can do to protect themselves,” he said. “The commandant is in constant communication with health officials and her staff to determine the best course of action.”

A new federal law requiring staff vaccine mandates for long-term care facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding does not apply to the New Hampshire Veterans Home because it receives neither, said spokeswoman Sarah Stanley.

New Hampshire Bulletin is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Hampshire Bulletin maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Dana Wormald for questions: info@newhampshirebulletin.com. Follow New Hampshire Bulletin on Facebook and Twitter.

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