New Hampshire’s shortage of health care workers threatens both the health of the economy and individuals going without needed care, advocates said at a Statehouse rally Monday.

With roughly 2,000 job vacancies in hospitals, community health centers, nursing homes and other health care settings across the state, advocates are pushing for the provisions of a $110 million health care workforce bill to be included in the state budget. The lobbying is intensifying as the budget process moves from the House to the Senate, where the Senate Finance Committee will hold several public hearings later this week.

Among other things, the bill would increase Medicaid reimbursement rates to providers, expand the use of telemedicine beyond specialists, and allow for better collecting and reporting of data on workforce needs to guide future efforts, said its prime sponsor, Sen. Cindy Rosenwald, D-Nashua. She said investing in workforce development now is critical as the state implements large-scale projects with help from federal funding, including the new “hub and spoke” model to address the opioid crisis and the state’s new 10-year mental health care plan.

“None of these important efforts will work without the competent, professional clinicians we need all over New Hampshire,” she said. “Workforce is simply foundational not only to caring for our population but also to economic growth.”

For Nancy Kelleher, of Goffstown, a Medicaid rate increase might mean she’d be able to again hire someone to help her 27-year-old daughter, Megan, who has Down’s Syndrome and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure several years ago. She’s been without an aide for several months because workers paid $12.50 an hour weren’t up to the task of the close monitoring Megan needs.

“Megan deserves and needs her budget to be increased to meet her current need. This rate increase would allow me to pay a higher rate, but it will also help keep her alive,” she said. “I’m juggling with friends and family and co-workers and working with Megan with me, and I’m out of options. I need help, and I need this to pass.”

Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu announced a commission Monday on mental health workforce development and proposed $24 million in his budget to address the workforce shortage in the larger health care industry. A spokesman said Monday that while Sununu will review the workforce bill should it reach his desk, he is concerned about such a large cost.

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