Enfield weighs joining Lebanon-based community nurse program

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 05-30-2023 8:58 PM

ENFIELD — Yet another Upper Valley municipality is considering adding a community nurse program.

Enfield residents will have an opportunity to learn more about a proposal for such a program and weigh in on it during a public hearing in early June.

Should it opt in, Enfield would join a growing list of municipalities with community nurses. Currently, Community Nurse Connection, a nonprofit organization previously known as the Upper Valley Community Nursing Project that supports community nurse programs in the Upper Valley, does data collection and helps support nursing programs in the Upper Valley towns of Hanover, Lebanon, Lyme, Hartland, Norwich, Reading/West Windsor, Thetford and Tunbridge, as well as Weston, Londonderry, South Londonderry, Peru, Landgrove and Andover, Vt. Strafford is in the process of establishing a program.

“We know in the towns that have had a nurse for five or six years, the taxpayers are willing to support it,” said Kristin Barnum, a member of the Enfield Community Nursing Project Steering Committee who is also executive director of the Community Nurse Connection. “But how do you convince a town to start?”

About a year and a half ago, a group of Enfield residents formed the steering committee and started discussing the possibility of launching the program, where a nurse would visit Enfield residents free of charge to provide services such as medication management, fall prevention assessments and general wellness check-ins along with other services not typically covered by insurance.

Around the same time, Lebanon Fire Chief Jim Wheatley approached Enfield Town Manager Ed Morris to see if the town would be interested in contracting with the city as part of its community nurse program. The proposed plan calls for signing a two-year contract with Lebanon, where one of the city’s two nurses would provide care to Enfield residents for 10 hours per week.

“Pretty much everybody I’ve talked to tells me a story about one of their parents or somebody they knew who needs this service or could have used this service,” said Steve Powell, co-chairman of the Enfield Community Nursing Project Steering Committee. “It’s a nurse, but the service is by no means all medical. It’s very much, ‘Is the house safe? If not, what do we need to do? What resources can we access to have it made safe?’ ”

At 6 p.m. on Monday, June 5, the community nursing committee will ask the Enfield Selectboard to establish a “Community Nursing Trust Fund” which will allow members to fundraise and apply for grants to support the position. The goal is to raise $60,000 to $75,000, Powell said, emphasizing that the group is not asking the town for money.

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“The whole purpose of creating this trust fund is trying to establish the program without the use of taxpayer dollars,” Morris said.

The goal is for Lebanon’s community nurses to begin seeing Enfield residents beginning in January 2024, provided that the fund is approved and the money can be raised. At that time, the Lebanon community nurses would also begin visiting Grantham residents for 15 hours per week. Grantham voters approved $45,000 at Town Meeting to join Lebanon’s program.

“We work closely with them anyway for EMS service,” Wheatley said.

Grantham and Enfield both have volunteers that serve as EMTs and Lebanon, which has a paid department, also responds to calls. Lebanon has two community nurses who each work 20 hours per week, Wheatley said. If both Enfield and Grantham join the program in January, one of those positions would become full time at 40 hours a week.

“The advantage from my point of view is we potentially can start soon and we don’t have to find someone, pay them, manage them and deal with it when they move on to the next job. Lebanon has an existing program,” Powell said. “It doesn’t mean if we want to continue this after two years that we have to stay with Lebanon.”

The Enfield committee has already received grants and pledges from people who are interested in donating, said Powell. Committee members and Morris agree that a two-year trial period makes sense because it would enable the town to get a better sense of its usefulness.

“It would give us the right amount of time I think to collect the data of truly what’s happening in the town of Enfield, how many people are using the service, how many visits per week the nurse is doing and what the need for the service in the town of Enfield is,” Morris said. “That would allow us the correct information to determine the future of the program after the first two years.”

Barnum said that towns that have lower income levels often have higher rates of people who are uninsured and/or who use Medicare and Medicaid and are more likely to benefit from a community nurse.

Those towns could benefit from a community nursing program, but they may struggle to find the funding for it.

“That’s something I would love to work on as an organization, how do we create that needs assessment based on the socioeconomic factors to say this town could really benefit, but unfortunately those towns have less money, so how does that work?” Barnum said.

The June 4 hearing will be held at the public works facility at 74 Lockehaven Road and can also be streamed via enfield.nh.us/select-board/events/56361.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

CORRECTION: A public hearing about the establishment of a “Community Nursing Trust Fund” in Enfield will take place at 6 p.m. Monday, June 5. A previous version of this story included an incorrect date for the meeting.