Now Is the Time of Our Greatest Need
By Marylee Gorham Director Admissions & Marketing Peabody Home
It’s been a long haul for all of us as we battle this insidious coronavirus.
The first CDC designated COVID-19 case reported in the United States was on January 20th a date that now carries some irony since it will mark exactly a year to the day of medical combat with an invisible foe when our next president is inaugurated in 2021. In the Northeast we watched the trajectory as it careened through Europe, ravaged New York and then moved into every state in the union.
Did we think New Hampshire might escape worst case scenarios?
Maybe, given our rural landscape, low population density, a modicum of self-policing in terms of mask wearing, and calm, thoughtful, responsive leadership from the Governor’s Office.
New Hampshire reported the first COVID-19 case in early March. Perplexingly, it originated from a hospital employee who went to an event tied to Dartmouth College’s business school despite being told to stay isolated.
The numbers are grim.
Over 11 million infected in the United States, with 185,000 new cases reported on November 22. We’ve lost 251,715 of our citizens – this number is projected to significantly rise through December.
In the Granite State with a population of 1.3 million, over 16,000 have been infected and 506 have died. Interestingly, the age group with the highest infection rate – 3106 are 20-29-year old’s, of which 19 required hospitalization and one died. At the other end of the age spectrum the picture is dark. Aged 60-69- 1796 infected, 200 required hospitalization and 41 have died.
Aged 70-79 – 999 have become infected with 184 requiring hospitalization and 114 have died. Aged 80+ 1275 have become infected, 189 hospitalized and a sobering 332 have died.
Further examination of the data reveals the human suffering from long term care with 2,753 infected of which 214 had to be hospitalized – in total 412 Granite State senior residents have died. Poignantly, our most vulnerable and those with medical compromise have borne the brunt of this relentless disease.
The virus has not discriminated between resident and staff in our elder facilities either with 2331 healthcare workers sickened by COVID and eight dying.
Why we do the work we do
When contemplating these statistics, give thought to the dedication of those who are career eldercare providers. Challenged daily with the burden of “keeping COVID out,” prey to a form of survivor guilt if COVID does breach the walls of the facility, laboring under the expectation to severely limit one’s life outside of work for the greater good of those reliant on every aspect of personal care. Cleaning every two hours since April, wearing masks and goggles and protective gowns, screening and temperature checking, and much like Lady Macbeth, continuously trying to wash out the proverbial damn spot that is COVID-19 from our hands.
Governor Sununu has instituted a statewide mandatory mask mandate as of November 20th. Further, he generously reinstated the $300 a week stipend to healthcare workers to incentivize mission commitment towards senior care.
Therein lies the rub.
This stipend is only available to workers at Medicaid/Medicare funded facilities. Other non-profit, private pay homes have been systematically excluded from this program even while we remit dollars to Concord each month in compliance with the 5.5% bed tax used to offset the cost of providing care in those aforementioned Medicaid/Medicare homes. Their employees will receive an extra $300 take home each week until the end of the year. Not so all others.
COVID-19 in an equal opportunity infector caring not one bit as to the funding sources of senior care facilities in New Hampshire. This virus cuts a swath of misery regardless. Staffing is absolutely critical at a time of greatest need as community spread ripples to all 10 counties and to every corner of our state.
Retaining and recruiting quality staff has always presented its own set of hiring issues. Throw into the mix a potentially deadly virus, then the attraction of extra hazard pay does not create a level playing field for all employers within the senior care sector. There will always be those that simply follow the money, but countless others are truly compassionate, dedicated individuals who continue to perform their work in physically and emotionally demanding environments.
Meg Miller, Administrator at Peabody Home says “Eldercare has always been in the shadows of other health care options opened to registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and licensed nursing assistants. As an RN myself, I find caring for elders more challenging and much more rewarding than any other health care ‘platform.’ It is time to recognize the dedicated essential workers in long term care regardless the method of reimbursement the facility receives. We are licensed by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services and the staff in ‘private"’ homes should be equally compensated.”
ALL NH healthcare workers should receive this stipend. Their work is equal - our seniors deserve the gentle care they and their families rightly expect. Healthcare workers should be not treated as ‘also rans’ based on the funding source of their employer. This is not the time senior care should be experiencing staffing shortages especially when New Hampshire has received millions of dollars in federal money for COVID-19 expenses.
Governor Chris Sununu, Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette and others, have the ability to direct those funds as they see fit.
Please call the Governor’s Office to voice your concerns about the exclusion of Private Pay healthcare workers from this stipend program.
Contact Governor Sununu: Office of the Governor State House 107 North Main Street, Concord NH 03301 Telephone 603.271.2121 or fax 603.271.7680.
Contact Commissioner Shibinette: Telephone 603.271.9200