Advocates weary of state’s crisis plan

  • Poor People’s Campaign protesting on Sheep Davis rd Thursday October 15th during the Governor’s weekly press conference to protest the state’s Crisis Standards of Care plan. ALLIE ST PETER—Monitor Staff

  • Debora Opramolla holding a sign reading “We dont want sympathy cards”€ and Krista Gilbert (right) holding a sign that reads “€œHealth care is a human right”€ protesting on Sheep Davis rd October 15th, 2020. ALLIE ST PETER—Monitor Staff

  • Mark Ferrin protesting on Sheep Davis rd with the Poor People’s Campaign on October 15th, 2020 ALLIE ST PETER—Monitor Staff

Monitor staff
Published: 10/15/2020 4:48:28 PM

Disability rights advocates took to the streets Thursday outside Gov. Chris Sununu’s weekly press conference on the coronavirus pandemic to protest the state’s Crisis Standards of Care plan, which was activated earlier this year.

They argue the plan does not provide enough oversight for each hospital’s plan to dole out resources, which leaves the state’s poor and disabled residents vulnerable.

Early in the pandemic, states across the country, including New Hampshire, activated their Crisis Standards of Care plans for the first time in U.S history, which lays out protocols for making healthcare decisions when the system is overwhelmed.

These plans are intended to help hospitals make objective decisions about how to distribute resources in the event that they can’t care for everyone.

Jason Wells, the co-chair of the N.H Poor People’s Campaign, said he worries that if hospitals have unilateral control over their own rationing plans, disabled Granite Staters could be denied essential care or life-saving treatment.

“There is very little accountability,” he said. “Right now, hospitals create these plans and no one will ever look at it again.”

For the most part, New Hampshire has been spared the horrifying scenes of a healthcare system stretched too thin as in other places across the globe – decomposing bodies in U-hauls, doctors weeping behind hospitals, and ICUs filled to capacity with patients.

But the state isn’t out of the woods yet. New cases of COVID-19 have been increasing at the fastest rate the state has seen since early in the pandemic, renewing fears of a strained hospital system.

The Disability Rights Center, along with 29 other organizations sent a letter to Lori Shibinette, the commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, in early August, asking for four changes to the plan.

Jake Leon, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, said many of their recommendations have already been incorporated into the crisis standards of care.

“The State Disaster Medical Advisory Committee takes all comments on the crisis standards of care into consideration,” he said. “The (committee) was established with a broad cross-sector of community members, including ethicists, Those who represent individuals with disabilities, nursing home administrators, attorneys, legislators, public health representatives, the deputy state epidemiologist, frontline doctors treating patients with COVID-19, and persons with disabilities.”

In addition to increased oversight and transparency regarding each hospital’s plan, advocates argued for greater accessibility in the language that’s used.

“It is not sufficient that hospitals are transparent in their plans if they are so complex that they cannot be understood by the general public,” the letter read.

Protesters on Route 106 in Concord on Thursday held signs that included messages like ” We don’t want sympathy cards,” and “Health care is a human right.”

They said the state failed to include enough people in vulnerable groups in the formation of the plan, which could lead to discrimination against those with disabilities and of diverse racial and ethnic communities.

“When you change the narrator you change the narrative,” Wells said. “Those voices were not present.”

Wells said his organization mailed their demands twice to the governor, with no response. Wells said Thursday he wanted to present his demands to the governor in person.

“It is insufficiently transparent and accountable,” he said. “It allows for hospitals to be able to deny or ration lifesaving treatment. We believe that will fall on abelist lines as well as race lines.”

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