By Thomas P. Caldwell, InDepthNH.org
LACONIA — The Belknap County Commission anticipates needing additional appropriation from the county delegation to cover a projected budget shortfall for nursing homes.
When the delegation approved the care home budget in January, members anticipated that they would have to revisit the issue later in the year, after receiving more information on the progress of the county’s hiring efforts. .
Due in part to the pandemic and resistance to vaccination mandates, the nursing home was experiencing staff departures who remained unoccupied, and the number of residents fluctuated between 60 and 70 percent of full occupancy.
As a result, the county delegation reduced the commissioners’ proposed budget from $13,452,140 to $12,076,103, pending a better understanding of the situation after a few months.
The delegation also refused to fund a pay rise that had been put in place to attract and retain nurses. While the commission maintains that the delegation approved the increase, the delegation’s executive committee said at the time that it was never asked to approve the increases and that a salary study that had been authorized n had not been completed.
On May 19, County Administrator Debra Shackett said projections put the nursing home budget at $12,239,263 by the end of the year, $142,688 above budget.
She said that as it stands, salaries for full-time nurses will reach $3 million by the end of the year, assuming vacancies are not filled next month. With a budget of $2,750,000 for full-time salaries, this would represent a shortfall of $250,000 in this category. Underspending on part-time salaries will cover some of that, she said.
“If those [full-time] positions are filled and start in a month, we’re actually going to be spending closer to $3.2 million, so that $3 million figure assumes we’ll continue to have vacancies, much to everyone’s dismay,” Shacklet said. “So that’s a real concern.”
Filling vacancies would also increase health insurance costs, she noted, but the effect on the budget would be difficult to predict as it would depend on the health plan taken out by employees.
“Health insurance…could go up or down dramatically, quickly,” she told the commission.
Belknap County Commission Vice Chairman Glen Waring suggested they approach the county delegation about possibly needing additional credit for the retirement home.
“I think the sooner we start that conversation and bring them into that conversation, the better,” Waring said.