Kuster visits Southern New Hampshire Medical Center

Telegraph photo by GRACE PECCI U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., on Friday visits Nashua’s Southern New Hampshire Medical Center to speak with representatives about expanding access to and bringing down the costs of health care.

NASHUA – U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., discussed health care coverage, the opioid epidemic and treatment facilities during her Friday visit to Southern New Hampshire Medical Center.

“It’s not always easy to educate the public,” Kuster said. “It seems a lot easier to have a bumper sticker that says, Medicare for All.”

She said what needs to be done is focusing on what it would mean to “bring it home” to New Hampshire and what it would mean in terms of access, quality and costs.

They also discussed the need for health care professionals, both in nursing in mental health and psychology areas.

Kuster discussed how New Hampshire Technical Institute recently has closed down its Licensed Nursing Assistant Program. Kuster asked Southern New Hampshire Medical Center representatives if they employ LNAs. The general consensus from the group was that while they do hire LNAs, they are difficult to find and keep.

Kuster suggested working with community colleges. She noted a problem she had seen was that nursing schools are expensive.

“They need a lab; they need those (simulation) dolls,” Kuster said. “I think the role that we can play is getting some federal funding in to help get these nursing programs off the ground.”

And while Kuster discussed the struggle with the expense of nursing programs, she also noted effectiveness of career technical education programs in high school. These allow students to work their way up a ladder and take classes through at community colleges.

Kuster also discussed the Bipartisan Opioid Task Force, which she helped start.

“Part of the whole thing has been educating my colleagues about disease. (Addiction) is a chronic disease, not a moral failing,” she said.

“It’s not a 28-day, one-and-done type of thing. It’s recovery housing; it’s a long term type of deal,” Kuster added. “I think one of the big challenges here in New Hampshire is we are finally turning the corner of getting people into treatment, but the question is, how do we make it so that people can get back on their feet and get back into their communities?”

Kuster shared with the group an idea she plans to work on in the next couple of years. In the past, Medicaid has not been provided to people who are incarcerated. Kuster said she had been talking with former Sullivan County Jail Superintendent Ross Cunningham, who worked to bring recovery treatment to those who were incarcerated over five years ago.

“Eighty to 90 percent of people (who are incarcerated) have concurring mental health issues and they’re not getting any treatment,” Kuster said. “We all act absolutely shocked that they go back to addiction and crime.”

Kuster said in Sullivan County, the recidivism rate fell from the 80th percentile to the 20th percentile.

“Multiply this out to this entire country,” Kuster said. This was also thanks to a 12-month program once members in treatment were released from jail.

For now, Kuster said she’ll be working with Cunningham to gather more data, while also hoping to extend Medicaid coverage to those who are incarcerated.

A treatment option such as this, Kuster said, will ultimately save tax dollars – and save lives.