Gov. Chris Sununu has issued a new executive order that would allow certain nursing students to apply for a temporary license to practice.
The order applies to nursing students who will graduate on or before May 31 of next year. These students would be directly supervised while providing any health care services related to COVID-19.
Brendan Williams, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Health Care Association, says this executive order is a welcome step, especially heading into the December holidays.
“Any type of help, like this particular emergency order is appreciated, but we’re going to need a lot more than that,” he said.
The state’s staffing strain has been persistent. In the past two years, New Hampshire has lost about 1,200 licensed nursing assistants, according to Williams.
Hospitals, nursing homes and other long-term care facilities say the pandemic has worsened the shortage, in part because of outbreaks and staff needing to quarantine.
The staffing shortage is taking an emotional toll for those who are on call. Williams says some workers are doing double shifts.
“People are sort of at their wit’s end,” Williams said. “You worry that they’re going to let down their guard when it comes to some infection control measures. It’s hard to be perfect all the time.”
Other facilities have had to rely on traveling nurses to meet staffing needs.
“They’re paying quite a premium for that work,” he said.
Williams says there are a number of long-term factors affecting New Hampshire’s workforce shortage, including how the state reimburses for Medicaid, and therefore the wage LNAs make.
“We have New England’s worst gap between Medicaid care costs, most of which are wages, and reimbursement,” he said. “If you’re going to care for the poor in the state of New Hampshire, you can become poor yourself.”
In November, Sununu reinstated the $300 a week stipends for workers in long-term care facilities.
But that money expires at the end of the year, since it comes from the federal CARES Act money.