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Fiscal Committee approves nearly $90M to fund COVID-19 response, including contract nurses and 'Booster Blitz'

screenshot photo of fiscal committee meeting
Todd Bookman
/
NHPR
Members of the Fiscal Committee approved spending nearly $90M in federal money for COVID-19 related responses.

With hospitalizations from COVID-19 at record levels in New Hampshire, a legislative committee Thursday approved spending tens of millions of dollars to increase capacity within the health care system.

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The joint funding requests come from the Department of Health and Human Services, which is working with hospitals as they try to manage approximately 400 hospitalized COVID-19 patients statewide, with higher numbers expected over the coming weeks.

“Our hospitals are transferring patients as far away as Connecticut and Albany, New York to get the right level of care that they need,” DHHS Commissioner Lori Shibinette told members of the Fiscal Committee, which scheduled a special meeting to fast-track the spending requests.

“And we are not just talking about COVID patients. We are talking about patients with heart attacks and strokes,” Shibinette added.

A portion of the overall spending approved Thursday — approximately $90 million in total, with $26.5 million of those funds being transferred within DHHS — will be used to move patients who are in hospitals waiting to be discharged but don’t have an available bed at a long-term care facility. These bottlenecks in the health care system, sometimes exacerbated by delays in Medicaid applications, account for as many as 105 beds, Shibinette told lawmakers.

“By moving one long-term care resident out, you are able to service dozens of acute care patients in that same bed,” she said.

The committee also approved $6 million to spend on contracts with private traveling nurses from out-of-state. The state has identified at least two county nursing homes and three private nursing homes that have the space to accommodate more patients but don’t have the staff available to care for them. The so-called “strike team” nurses from other states would staff these units, at an estimated cost of $200-300 per employee.

The fiscal committee approved that portion of the spending plan on a unanimous vote. The Executive Council will likely take up the items next week for final approval.

The committee also approved accepting $43 million in federal money from FEMA to expand the number of mobile vaccination vans, as well as testing and vaccine clinics in the state. The money will also fund a hotline for homebound individuals seeking vaccinations or booster shots.

The funding will also cover costs associated with the December 11 ‘Booster Blitz’ event which will provide up to 10,000 booster shorts to residents spread across 15 locations in New Hampshire.