By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
WEST STEWARTSTOWN – The Coos County Nursing Hospital has gone from crisis to chaos with more than half of its residents and nearly half the staff testing positive for COVID-19 and four patients having died – with no help from the state beyond sending PPE, an angry Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier charged on Wednesday.
The nursing home’s business office is closed due to COVID. Phone calls can’t get through and families aren’t allowed to visit loved ones because of the outbreak, Grenier said.
It has been going on for 10 days despite calls for help and complaints to Gov. Chris Sununu’s chief of staff, D.J. Bettencourt, and the state Department of Health and Human Services, he said.
Grenier is livid.
“We’re beyond crisis,” Grenier said. “I’m angry…Other than ‘you are in our thoughts and prayers,’ there has been little to no help from the state.”
What the nursing home needs is staff, people to take care of the residents and the state was ill-prepared to help nursing homes north of the notches procure additional staff to replace sickened workers, Grenier said.
Staffers who have tested positive but are asymptomatic are working in the wards with COVID-19 positive patients. Picture what is going on in the halls of nursing homes and hospitals in North Dakota, Grenier said. “That’s happening right here in West Stewartstown,” Grenier said.
Sununu didn’t immediately respond to Grenier’s complaints, but his spokesman Ben Vihstadt did ask for further details about the mayor’s concerns.
To add insult to injury, Grenier said, the state Department of Health and Human Services sent a survey team to the nursing home on Monday to do an inspection in the midst of the crisis.
“That’s how crazy it has become,” Grenier said. Nursing home staff had to stop taking care of patients to gather documents and charts and assist the inspectors in their work at a time when they are severely short-handed, he said.
“I was angry beyond belief, how insensitive,” Grenier said.
Coos County Nursing Hospital Administrator Laura Mills complained to Grenier in an email.
“As if the week was not looking bad enough, State Surveyors walked in this morning for our ‘Infection Control Survey.’ What a horrible time to pull that on a nursing home in the middle of an outbreak and begging for help with staffing!
The National Guard also arrived to do their weekly testing.
“My Infection Control Nurse is out. My DON (director of nursing) had worked all weekend so was not here, my ADON was just back from being sick and was passing medication in the COVID unit. My Staff Development Nurse is out, my First and Second Floor Nurse Managers are out, my Social Services Director is out, my Environmental Services Director was back for her first day in 2 weeks after being sick, my Plant Manager is out, and we are at minimum staffing,” Mills wrote.
Grenier said he has been asking for help in staffing.
“We asked for bodies – for help – the state was prepared for emergencies in the middle and lower parts of the state but was ill-prepared to have some help north of the notches,” he said. “We have PPE. We need licensed personnel to help us.”
Coos County was barely touched by the virus until recent weeks, but community transmission is now substantial, like the rest of the state.
“It’s chaos. It’s been going on for 10 days and its obvious to me this situation is not a priority of the state other than the PPE,” Grenier said. But the burn rate is so high on PPE that that could be a problem soon, he added.
Brendan Williams, president of the New Hampshire Health Care Association, said the state is doing the best it can within its resources.
“The problem is we’re all just getting overwhelmed here. When a family-owned facility (great facility, great family) in Newport takes to social media to broadcast its need for staff it tells you something,” Williams said.
He said he has heard of nursing homes being stigmatized.
“I also know of shameful incidents of people associated with a nursing home with cases being stigmatized in rural communities, including by businesses,” Williams said. “We can’t have that. We need to all pull together.”