Dec 1, 2015 6:52 PM

NH1 News Investigates Need for Nurses: Nursing shortage at home straining some NH families

CONCORD - An effort is underway to address a home-based pediatric nursing shortage that's straining New Hampshire families.

Nursing agencies tell NH1 News there's an increase in job openings because nursing jobs in hospitals have higher pay rates and steady hours, while home-based care requires Medicaid reimbursement that hasn't increased in several budget cycles.

The burden of the shortage is falling on families, who have been guaranteed hours of in-home nursing care but are struggling to find qualified nurses to fill those hours.

Heather Donnell, of Rochester, is a mother of a a young boy who has several health challenges and recently underwent a tracheotomy.

Donnell has had to quit her career to become a full-time caregiver for her son. She's taught herself how to perform life saving measures and said it's 'normal' for her to revive him after he loses oxygen and turns blue. Lucas has been approved under Medicaid for 80 hours of home care.

"We have not had nursing for 18 weeks; we've had nothing covered," Donnell said.

Audrey Gerkin's daughter Lexi also needs 24-hour-a-day care.

"We're approved for 60 hours right now and we're receiving zero hours of services," Gerkin said.

Gerkin is from from Rochester and said without outside assistance, she's struggling to care for the family as a whole. The Donnells and Gerkins are considering placing their children in residential care in Keene, the nearest appropriate facility which would be about a two hour drive each way.

Both families are hoping a proposed bill that will be discussed at an upcoming Governor's Commission meeting will highlight the need for a solution.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn, would launch a study into the problem.

"We don't want them in hospitals for extended stays," Woodburn said. "We think it's most important to understand that every kid just wants to fit in and be a kid and in the home environment is much better than any other type of environment."

According to the Department of Health and Human services, Medicaid reimbursement for in-home nurses has not seen an increase in six to seven years.

"Rates are established in the budget, which is set by the Legislature. Since the recession, the need for services in the State has significantly increased, further straining the budget," said HHS Director of Communications Jake Leon.

The Governor's Commission Meeting will take place in Concord Thursday December 10th from 1-4 p.m.


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