The Bulletin Board

Staff vaccination to remain optional at New Hampshire Veterans Home

By: - August 26, 2021 11:33 am
Vials of the COVID vaccine

Nearly 25 pandemic-related proposals are on their way to becoming bills. (Getty Images)

This story was updated Aug. 26, 2021 at 4:30 p.m. to add a comment from the governor.

A state senator’s request for mandated staff vaccination at the New Hampshire Veterans Home, where 37 residents died of COVID-19 following a 2020 outbreak, appears unlikely to change the current policy of making vaccines optional – at least for now. 

“The New Hampshire Veterans Home is constantly looking at the data and consulting with health care officials to determine the best action,” said Commandant Margaret LaBrecque in an emailed statement. “The Legislature has given us the flexibility regarding vaccination mandates if needed in the future. As commandant, I support personal choice but must weigh that against the risk to our residents and staff.”

About 50 percent of staff had received a COVID-19 vaccine as of a March report on the home’s infection control practices during COVID-19, and fewer than 50 percent get a flu vaccine, which is offered onsite at no cost each year, the report said.

House Bill 220, signed by Gov. Chris Sununu in July, prohibits state, county, and local governments from mandating vaccines as a condition to “secure, receive, or access any public facility, any public benefit, or any public service,” making mandated staff vaccines illegal in public schools and most public workplaces. Public health care settings, however, such as the state hospital, county nursing homes, and the state-run New Hampshire Veterans Home may mandate vaccines under the new law. The federal Department of Veterans Affairs announced in July it was requiring its 115,000 frontline health care workers to get a COVID-19 vaccine, saying it was “taking this necessary step to keep veterans it serves safe.”

Late last week, Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, a Nashua Democrat, cited the same goal when she called on Sununu to require staff in the state’s veterans home to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. “With the Delta variant surging across the state and the country, we should do everything possible to protect the residents of the (New Hampshire) Veterans Home,” she said.

Sununu said residents have taken steps to protect themselves. “The most important news is that 99 percent of all veterans home residents are vaccinated, which is the number one thing an individual can do to protect themselves,” he said. “The commandant is in constant communication with health officials and her staff to determine the best course of action.”

A new federal law requiring staff vaccine mandates for long-term care facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding does not apply to the New Hampshire Veterans Home because it receives neither, said spokeswoman Sarah Stanley.

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.