CONCORD — Providers and recipients of services for disabled, mentally ill and older residents pressed state senators Tuesday to fully fund such programs, saying the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated longstanding challenges in all three areas.
More than 200 people signed up to testify during the Senate Finance Committee’s public hearing on the proposed two-year state budget. In the first hour, lawmakers heard repeated pleas to increase reimbursement rates for adult day care and senior centers and for home care services that help people with disabilities live independently.
Amy Moore, director of Ascentria In-Home Care, said her program and others like it can’t hire enough workers because wages are so low.
“We hail these caregivers, these health care workers as heroes during the pandemic and yet we’re not paying them a livable wage,” said Moore, adding the current system is failing vulnerable residents.
“As someone whose spent many years out in the field, I can tell you I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said. “A 90-year-old woman in Campton, who fell a few months ago, was on the floor for 14 hours before someone found her. A 62-year-old veteran in Tilton, who’s not getting the showers on a regular basis that he needs, so much so that it’s affecting his health. A 39-year-old woman in Lebanon with cerebral palsy who’s supposed to receive 30 hours a week of care but is only receiving 12. She has intentionally overdosed twice in the last two months.”
The House approved a $13.5 billion budget last month, and lawmakers have until June 24 to agree on a compromise after the Senate develops and approves its version.
Forrest Beaudoin-Friede, of Peterborough, urged the Senate committee to fully fund support services for those with developmental disabilities and to create a dental benefit for adult Medicaid recipients.
“The supports I receive help me to live independently in my own apartment, work part-time, volunteer in my community and stay involved in activism,” said Beaudoin-Friede, who has Down syndrome.
Marianne Jackson, executive director of the Gibson Senior Center in North Conway, said her organization, which has been closed for most of the pandemic, recently arranged an outing for four women who hadn’t been out of their apartments for more than five months.
“They gushed with joy,” she said. “Now, we need to pivot to bring back many of the people who have been otherwise stranded, but it’s going to take effort and funds.”
Matthew Hood of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock health said the pandemic has exposed gaps in the state’s behavioral health system, and urged senators to prioritize funding for a robust continuum of care that includes prevention, early intervention, crisis support and integration with physical health. He also was among several callers who asked the committee to remove language inserted in the House-passed budget that would ban teaching that the state or U.S. are fundamentally racist or sexist in public schools or state-funded programs.
The so-called “divisive topics” bill echoes a since-repealed executive order by former President Donald Trump. It would apply to both schools and businesses that contract with the state, and Hood said it would undermine the health system’s efforts to advance “diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.”
Arthur Gardiner, a Hanover resident, agreed.
“It’s astonishing that citizens of New Hampshire, a state with a motto of ‘Live Free or Die,’ could seek to suppress diverse views of our 250-year history as a country conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” he said. “Our history is what it is, both its tremendous achievements and its difficulties. Our history viewed from all perspectives is the cauldron from which we must realistically fashion our future.”