Some selectmen have questions, such as how the region can get more coronavirus vaccine doses and how communities can protect their recreational resources from the flock of out-of-towners in the North Country to ride out the pandemic.
Those queries were posed to freshman State Sen. Erin Hennessey, R-Littleton, during her legislative update to Bethlehem selectmen at their meeting this week.
“This is probably an unfair request, but anything you can do to help with getting vaccines up here and out to people and making it easier for people would be greatly appreciated,” said Selectman Bruce Caplain. “I know so many people who are elderly, people that are sick, who need the vaccine and are just having trouble getting it.”
Hennessey said she has been working with Perry Plummer, the former assistant commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Safety, who was tapped by Gov. Chris Sununu to run New Hampshire’s vaccine rollout.
She noted the recent glitch with the Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS) that New Hampshire adopted for residents to make online vaccine appointments, a system that led to canceled appointments for many area residents.
“In my conversations with Perry Plummer and the governor, they are very committed to getting extra doses to our area, to LRH [Littleton Regional Healthcare], to help with the 1,600 people that were impacted by the fake appointments that they were given and had to reschedule,” said Hennessey. “Because they had to reschedule, they no longer had a February appointment and now they either have a May or April appointment. I’m in weekly contact now with LRH to find out how that is going, and so far, I believe it’s been 600 or 800 people they’ve been able to get back to the front of the line. As those people are vaccinated, whatever appointments they have will open up.”
She’s still hopeful there will be a new system.
Currently, people have to cancel their existing appointment to see if an earlier appointment is available, but many don’t want to do that in case they cannot get an earlier appointment, and then their April or May appointment is taken by someone else, she said.
She asked residents with problems to contact her.
“If anybody does have an issue and hasn’t been able to schedule an appointment, that’s where I can help and can pass their name and phone number along to DHHS [the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services] and they will give them a call to help them schedule an appointment,” said Hennessey. “A lot of people have had difficulty with the system sometimes. I don’t know yet if it has to do with their email provider or not, but they’ve gotten the state confirmation and helpful hints once they’ve registered for an appointment, but they have not gotten the CDC [U.S. Centers for Disease Control] VAMS email saying go ahead and go online and register.”
She said people in that situation, as well as others who go online and cannot see any available appointments, or people who don’t have a computer or have had a hard time getting through to 211, can contact her and get a personal phone call from DHHS or someone working with DHHS to schedule an appointment.
“People have been successful in that so far,” said Hennessey.
Bethlehem Board of Selectmen Chairman Gabe Boisseau brought up a concern voiced last year when the region experienced a rise in people from out of the area escaping more densely populated areas for less populated North Country towns, a trend that could persist well into this year, if not longer.
“One of the things I’ve seen … in the last year or so is the increase in recreation traffic in our area, knowing we are marketing our region for recreation,” he said.
In many ways, it’s great to see people in town recreating, but it can put a tremendous strain on the infrastructure, and the community, from the strain, is at the moment unable to take care of the resources it has, said Boisseau.
He asked if there’s talk at the state level about deploying resources to help preserve recreational opportunities in northern New Hampshire.
“I had a very brief conversation with Commissioner Sarah Stewart, of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, late last week,” said Hennessey. “I have heard the same concerns from other select boards.”
Last summer, swimming holes, for instance, that were normally draws for locals were inundated with traffic, garbage, noise, and sometimes glass, said Hennessey.
Because it has been a big issue, she said she plans to follow up with Stewart and with Taylor Caswell, commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs, to find out what they’re doing with the state’s marketing strategy to help keep New Hampshire clean.
While there’s no details yet, Hennessey said the hope is that the big bump in the governor’s proposed budget for the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources will include funds to assist state parks in the North Country.