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State hospital association laments rejection of $27 million in federal funding

  • One of the signs from the portestors at the Executive Council meeting on Wednesday, October 13, 2021 GEOFF FORESTER

  • Audience members gather during a meeting of New Hampshire's Executive Council, Wednesday Oct. 13, 2021, in Concord, N.H. The Executive Council rejected 27 million in federal funds for vaccination outreach, thrilling outspoken activists who previously derailed a public meeting and delayed the vote. (AP Photo/Holly Ramer) Holly Ramer

  • Governor Chris Sununu and the rest of Executive Council at the meeting on Wednesday, October 13, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Protestors shout after Pledge of Allegiance during the New Hampshire Executive Council meeting at the Police Standards and Training Council headquaters in Concord on Wednesday, October 13, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 10/15/2021 12:05:03 PM

The president of the New Hampshire Hospital association is “disappointed” after the Executive Council voted to reject tens of millions of dollars from the federal government that would have gone toward the state's COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

Steve Ahnen, the president and CEO of the New Hampshire Hospital Association, said those millions of dollars could have been used to relieve a healthcare system strained by an unceasing pandemic. New Hampshire was the only state to reject this federal money.

"We have a very overly burdened health care system that’s stressed as it is," he said. "Those resources would have been very helpful."

The five-member Executive Council voted down two contracts this week that would have provided $27 million of federal funds to the Department of Health and Human Services for COVID-19 vaccinations, after opponents of vaccine mandates packed the meeting and disrupted proceedings. Nine were arrested.

State health officials and the Attorney General said accepting the funding would not force New Hampshire to comply with a federal vaccine mandate, but the funds were rejected anyway.

“At the end of the day there was no rational, logical reason to say no to these contracts,” Gov. Chris Sununu said after the meeting.

The money would have helped healthcare providers navigate vaccine distribution and funded vaccine sites for booster shots and first doses for children under 12, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said.

Hospitals have played a large roll in the state's response to the pandemic, often holding vaccination clinics and serving as a local resource for COVID-19 testing. Severe cases that require medical care, like patients requiring a ventilator, have taken the largest toll on New Hampshire hospitals, Ahnen said.

"Hospitals are as challenged today as they've been at any point during the pandemic," he said.

The 4-1 vote to send back funds was not just a monetary loss for hospitals but a lost opportunity to vaccinate Granite Staters and keep them out of the intensive care units which are overrun in all parts of the state.

Some of the federal aid would have funded education and outreach to help increase New Hampshire's vaccination rate, which is the lowest in New England.

Without the tens of millions of dollars from the government, Shibinette said the outreach efforts would largely fall on the already struggling healthcare system. At a press conference, Sununu said the Executive Council's decision showed a "disregard for the lives that we're losing."

Ahnen said he's still hopeful there will be other opportunities for vaccine funding.

"As a state need to find ways to work together and partner to increase those vaccination rates but there's no question that this certainly will set us back," he said.

Teddy Rosenbluth bio photo

Teddy Rosenbluth is a Report for America corps member covering health care issues for the Concord Monitor since spring 2020. She has covered science and health care for Los Angeles Magazine, the Santa Monica Daily Press and UCLA's Daily Bruin, where she was a health editor and later magazine director. Her investigative reporting has brought her everywhere from the streets of Los Angeles to the hospitals of New Delhi. Her work garnered first place for Best Enterprise News Story from the California Journalism Awards, and she was a national finalist for the Society of Professional Journalists Best Magazine Article. She graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology.

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