By: Andrew Eills
June 26, 2020
Frontline nurses, other staff, and their employers in New Hampshire’s nursing homes and other Medicaid facilities can breathe a little easier this week – frontline staff’s pay will not be reduced. On Thursday, June 25, Governor Sununu issued Emergency Order # 55, which extends to July 31 an incentive pay program for frontline health care workers. The original end date of June 30 proved too early. For now, or at least until July 31, qualifying Medicaid providers will continue to receive funding to provide their frontline staff with a stipend and extra incentive pay of $300 per week for full-time workers and $150 per week for part-time workers. According to media reports, so far in New Hampshire more than 23,000 frontline workers have received these stipends for a total expenditure of approximately $30 million.
The extension of the stipend reflects the pandemic’s lasting effect on providers’ workforces. On April 16, Governor Sununu established the “COVID-19 Long Term Care Stabilization Program,” specifically to assist nursing homes and other qualifying Medicaid providers to retain vital nurses and front-line staff necessary to safely care for patients and operate healthcare facilities.
The genesis of the Program lay in the rapid and steady increase in the number of employees seeking unemployment compensation as a result of COVID-19. By early April, Medicaid providers that provide long term services in facility-based, as well as home and community, settings reported dramatic staff shortages. Although the State then was in the process of applying to the federal government for amendments to the NH State Medicaid Plan to free up certain funding streams, the State’s providers could not wait for approval.
In order to sustain the workforce required to serve New Hampshire’s Medicaid funded residential facilities and social service organizations, the Governor ordered the creation of the Program to immediately provide “temporary stabilization funding to incentivize frontline workers to remain in or rejoin the critical workforce during the COVID-19 Emergency.” He directed the NH Department of Health and Human Services and the NH Department of Employment Security to use available state funds and to determine which “qualifying Medicaid providers” and “qualifying frontline workers” would qualify for the Program.
The Program has had an impact on stemming the tide of staffing shortages. After the review by the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery (GOFERR) of the Program, the Governor on May 18 issued Emergency Order #45 which again explicitly recognized the necessity for maintaining the stipend. The Emergency Order declared that these incentive payments were to be considered “Coronavirus Relief Funds” making them eligible for a portion of the $1.25 billion in “flex funds” available through the CARES Act. The end date of the Program, however, remained June 30.
Yesterday’s extension of the Program to July 31 recognizes that the enhanced unemployment benefits provided by the CARES Act are scheduled to continue to July 31, and that many employees even now continue to seek unemployment compensation as a result of COVID-19.