Sununu, Feltes mischaracterize virus toll on nursing homes

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Republican Gov. Chris Sununu and his Democratic challenger, Dan Feltes, both misstated the coronavirus pandemic’s toll on New Hampshire nursing homes Monday during a televised debate in which they also accused each other of changing their positions on other issues for political purposes.

Of the state’s 468 deaths from the coronavirus, 81% have been among residents or staff at long-term care facilities. Asked whether the state should have moved more quickly to protect that vulnerable population, Sununu said while even one death is too many, New Hampshire has fared better than many other states.

“In terms of the number of fatalities we’ve had in long-term care, compared to beds we have in our population, we’re one of the lowest numbers on the East Coast,” he said during the WMUR-TV debate. “I think we are the lowest in New England.”

That is not true, however, according to the latest data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which covers through the week of Oct. 4.

Eighteen states, including neighboring Maine and Vermont, had lower rates than New Hampshire's 38 deaths per 1,000 nursing home residents. Several nearby states did have significantly higher rates, including Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Feltes also mischaracterized the situation, saying, “We have, as ranked by the New York Times, the worst COVID situation in long term care.” He was referring to an article that described the percentage of deaths in each state linked to long term care facilities. Nursing home deaths do account for a larger share of overall COVID-19 deaths in New Hampshire than they do in any other state, but that does not mean the state’s nursing home residents are dying at a faster rate than elsewhere.

Feltes, the state Senate majority leader, criticized Sununu for vetoing his legislation that would have provided $25 million in federal funding for nursing homes as well as created an independent review of problems they experienced during the pandemic in hopes of preventing future outbreaks. And he argued that nursing homes will be in even worse shape if the Supreme Court strikes down the Affordable Care Act, which he claims Sununu wants.

At Sununu’s direction, New Hampshire has joined a multi-state effort to defend the Affordable Care Act from a federal court challenge. But Feltes said that’s at odds with statements Sununu made opposing the Obama-era health law several years ago and his more recent comments saying that the Senate should vote on the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court before the election.

“You can do an election year filing if you want, but the reality is, you support the process moving forward on Judge Barrett, who has a long history of opposing Obamacare, you support Trump and the justices that are going to overturn Obamacare and you have a long history of opposition to Obamacare,” he said. “I don’t understand how you can even stand here tonight and say otherwise.”

Feltes repeatedly tried to make Sununu’s support for President Donald Trump an issue, asking him multiple times whether he will feel “proud” to vote for him. Sununu ignored the questions, and later, answering a question about the death penalty, accused Feltes of flip-flopping.

Sununu vetoed a bill last year to eliminate the death penalty, but the Democratic-led Legislature overturned it. The repeal bill would not apply retroactively to Michael Addison, who killed Manchester Officer Michael Briggs in 2006 and is the state’s only inmate on death row. But during his primary campaign, Feltes said he would support commuting Addison’s sentence to life without parole, and then later said he opposed commutation.

Asked to clarify his position Monday, Feltes said, "I’ve been consistent in supporting a commutation process moving forward, but I don’t support a commutation petition right now ... There’s going to be court processes down the road. What we should focus on is not hypothetical petitions right now, but what’s going on in people’s lives right now.”

Sununu rebutted, saying “that is the most inconsistent thing I’ve ever heard.”