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Molly Kelly Says Opioid Crisis and Child Protection Are Priorities for Funding

Democratic nominee for governor Molly Kelly says she plans to reevaluate the state budget to make the opioid crisis and child protection services a priority.

Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with Kelly on health care issues in New Hampshire. Morning Edition is interviewing all gubernatorial candidates on health issues this week.

(Editor's note: this tracscript has been edited lightly for clarity.)

Looking at an issue of course that's top of mind with voters – the opioid crisis. What are your plans to secure long term funding though to allow existing and new services to be sustainable?

Well you are correct that this opioid epidemic has been a crisis. I don't know if there is a family who's been untouched by this at all. And as governor, it would be at the top of what I would address. And we do have a $12 billion budget, and I believe that because this is such a crisis and it is affecting as an epidemic so many people in this state that we would fund – what we need to do is a comprehensive plan. I have talked about this all along as putting an emergency comprehensive plan together and to address the issue in prevention, treatment and recovery – bringing everyone to the table as I said, as we would if it was any other medical epidemic.

Do you feel that's not being done right now? The governor of course has got this hub and spoke model that's going to be implemented by the end of the year. What would you do differently?

Well, I think that that is a good start. So I'm concerned that there are a couple of hospitals that we know, Manchester and Nashua hospitals that are not a part of this plan. I question why is that. We know that Manchester-Nashua have [been] dealing with this epidemic in a very big way and want to address that. So I have some concerns. If they're not a part of the plan, if some hospitals are not a part of the plans, then will this be successful or not? I also will say that I would add to the plan as well strong emphasis on some of the most vulnerable, I would say, victims of the opiate epidemic, which are now the babies and the children. We're seeing another generation. Teachers are telling me they're seeing young people in schools who deal with [this], and also the grandparents who are caring for the children as well.

We know that there is a workforce shortage in the health industry in general. Of course when it comes to the opioid crisis, from our reporting, we've heard several times from experts who say we just don't have enough professionals here. How would you attract more professionals into the state?

Well, I think there are a few ways that we can do that. I know that there are different areas in our state. I've worked closely with the regional area of the district that actually I was in the Senate. And they have put together a regional health care district doing exactly what you're talking about. I would move that across the states so that we have health care industries working with [students] all the way from high school to college to really bring forth those those positions. We need to fund them. It is something we need to do right away, changed some of even what is the process. What are the licensing processes? What are some of the courses we could offer? How can we do that through our community college, through our colleges, even through some of the [career and technical education] centers to move that forward, and to work with the industries – the mental health industry as well as the medical industry to bring those two together.

You'd be using state funding though to entice those people to make training and education less expensive?

I think that we need to coordinate that with the industries, the medical industry as I said as well. Because they are the ones who are looking for that workforce as well. And it would be a collaboration of both state funding and working with businesses and industries, in particular healthcare.

I want to turn your attention to paid family medical leave. Obviously something that's been a big issue here in New Hampshire this year. You said paid family leave is essential, but there are questions about this bill that you supported within the last legislative session. Could that version actually work?

That bill had gone through the house three times and was vetted. And so I think that it was a good bill, a bill that I think is very supported, that people of the state want that. [They want] paid family medical leave. They value that. It went to the Senate. When it got to the Senate, Chris Sununu stopped it with the senators in the Senate, and it did not pass. So I would support that piece of legislation. Chris Sununu said paid family medical leave is a vacation. It's not a vacation.

Well, I've asked the governor could he support any version of a paid family medical leave bill and he said it would have to be voluntary. That would be an essential component of it. Do you see that as being a worthwhile compromise?

You know Chris and you had an opportunity to pass a paid family medical leave in some form that he wanted to do and he didn't. So you know, I will as governor make paid family medical leave a reality.

You alluded to Granite State children when we were talking about the opioid crisis. One of your promises is to secure a stable funding for child protection in the state budget. How do you plan to do that? Where would that money come from?

Now I think about a $12 billion budget, and if we can't find funding to take care of those children who are most vulnerable and who look to us for protection and safety, then we're doing something wrong. So we must and we will, and that is how I would fund DCYF, fully funded it and the volunteer services as well.

When you say fully fund, are you talking about getting back to levels that we saw more than a decade ago? I mean it takes a lot of funding obviously to keep up with the recommendations that we've heard from DCYF. Where would that funding come from?

Well, it will come from our budget. And as I said –

But presumably other areas of the budget would have to suffer in order for that to happen.

But we make priorities. We set priorities as to what is most important and what our responsibility is as a state. And certainly our responsibility, as I said, [and the] moral obligation [is] for those children who are most vulnerable. I think we need to create a separate entity outside of DCYF to coordinate as the one first stop so that people have access to a phone call when they need help, and we can respond to that.

You have talked about that independent system of care for children. You've alluded to that. What exactly would that look like? I mean it sounds like there's some duplication of what is happening with DCYF itself. What would this outside department do?

The outside department was I said would be like a one stop first contact and help coordinate the other services throughout the state to ensure that those children's needs are met, and to work with the DCYF, but to be separate outside of DCYF.

And that would be an additional staff and so on that would be outside the purview of DCYF?

Which is necessary, our responsibility to these young children.

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
Mary McIntyre is a senior producer at NHPR.
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