Stipend for health care workers extended a month, calming fears of staffing shortage

  • Brendan Williams, the President of the New Hampshire Healthcare Association. Teddy Rosenbluth—

Monitor Staff
Published: 6/23/2020 6:15:11 PM

The weekly stipends paid to front-line healthcare workers during the coronavirus pandemic will continue until July 31, staving off fears of a staffing shortage within the struggling industry.

The program, which was set to expire on June 30, was established by the governor to incentivize healthcare workers to continue working during the pandemic. It allocated an extra $300 a week for full-time healthcare workers and $150 a week for part-time workers. More than 23,000 frontline workers have enrolled to receive the stipend, which has cost the state about $30 million. 

At a press conference Tuesday, Governor Chris Sununu said he wants to keep focusing on providing resources to long-term care facilities, which have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. 

Brendan Williams, the president of the New Hampshire Health Care Association, said many long term care facilities had struggled with attracting and keeping employees even before the pandemic. The healthcare workforce became particularly vulnerable when outbreaks in nursing homes across the state began.

Williams said many facilities can only afford to pay their nurses a little more than $12 an hour, while Target just raised their minimum wage to $15 an hour. It’s no wonder facilities have had a difficult time retaining employees, he said. 

“You’re competing with fast-food restaurants,” he said.

When the first cases of COVID-19 hit Hillsborough County Nursing Home, 30 of the 400 employees quit almost immediately. 

Many single mothers, who comprise the majority of the nursing staff, were worried about their young children at home. Others were taking care of their elderly parents at home. Some had conditions that placed them at risk for COVID-19 themselves. 

The sudden decline in staff placed enormous pressure on the employees who remained. David Ross, an administrator at the Hillsborough County Nursing Home, said many employees picked up extra shifts, worked overtime, or took on responsibilities outside their job description. 

“You have social workers washing pots and pans in the kitchen,” he said. “Therapists are folding laundry and cleaning floors.” 

As the economy in the state ramps up again, Ross has struggled to compete with more businesses, most of which are on the hunt for new staff. He said, unlike other employers, he can’t just raise wages to attract new employees. 

The stabilization program has at least made the nursing home competitive with the other businesses, he said. By comparison, the CARES act, which was passed by Congress in March, provides $600 a week to unemployed Americans. 

“It’s not irrational for our staff, who has long been undervalued by policymakers, to make the economically rational decision to go on unemployment and avoid contact with the virus,” Williams said.  

Ross said the $300 weekly stipend did exactly what it was supposed to do — rewarded the employees who stayed and picked up those extra shifts and brought back some workers who had left for a different job.

Following the governor’s announcement that he would extend the program, many of Ross’ employees breathed a sigh of relief. He said almost 24 employees approached him in the last week, expressing concerns that the stipends might stop. 

Both Ross and Williams lobbied to get the program extended and are pleased their efforts have paid off. 

“Long-term care workers do daily battle with this virus,” Williams said in a press release. “It has been a morale boost to see their heroism recognized by Governor Sununu...” 

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