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Jan 15, 2016 6:12 PM

UPDATE: NH1 Investigates - Need for nurses

CONCORD - The Department of Health and Human Services is working to secure emergency funding to help families suffering from the in-home pediatric nursing shortage.

In December, several concerned families voiced their concerns during the monthly Governor's Commission Meeting.

NH1 News has been tracking the story of Heather Donnell and Audrey Gerkin, two mothers caring for their children that have complicated medical diagnoses. Both are struggling to have their Medicaid approved hours filled by a pediatric nurse.

WATCH: NH1 News Investigates - Need For Nurses

"It's still extremely challenging and now I'm at 27 weeks with no nursing," said Donnell.

Her 5-year old son Lucas has ADHD, Down's syndrome and he eats and breathes through tubes. Through Medicaid, the family is approved for 80 hours of care. Nursing agencies have been unable to find them an appropriate nurse.

Gerkin's 14-year old daughter Lexi is prone to seizures, cannot eat solid food, and has a genetic disorder. Gerkin said currently they have a nurse on Fridays.

Both women met with the outgoing head of HHS in August and since they've become advocates. They are reiterating what nursing agencies are telling them: the pediatric in-home nursing shortage is because pay rates are too low.

The reimbursement rate through medicaid hasn't been raised since 2006. Since, many nurses have opted for hospital and institutional jobs, which have higher pay rates and often offer a sign on bonus.

There are an estimated 120 families currently using in-home pediatric nurses, said HHS Deputy Commissioner Marylee Nihan. The shortage is also blamed on the intense challenges of the cases, and the higher level of skills needed to care for a complicated patient. But still, money remains a major problem.

"It is going to take a rate increase to prompt nurses into that environment," Nihan said.

As an emergency action, six cases that are in crisis mode, like Donnell and Gerkin, will be allowed a pay increase in the hopes a nurse will fill the position.

"The department is working with the Center's for Medicaid and Medicare Services to secure emergency resources for children who are in crisis need," said HHS Communications Director Jake Leon.

HHS has a special unit working on the shortage and plans include working toward a permanent pay increase, Leon said.

While some of the families were frustrated to see the Executive Council approve a pay raise to deal with the nursing shortage at The New Hampshire Hospital, which offers psychiatric services for adults and children, that situation is unrelated, Leon said.

The New Hampshire Hospital is run by state employees, which gives the Executive Council the power to change rates.

Right now, there is a proposed bill that would launch a study looking into the pediatric nursing crisis.

You can follow Colleen on Twitter @ColleenNH1

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