Hanover Hill resident gets his beer; state to abandon week-old guidelines for nursing homes

Mark Hayward, The New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester
·3 min read

May 5—Leo Buote could not go to Billy's for a beer, so Billy brought the beer to him.

On Tuesday, Bill Laberge, owner of Billy's Sports Bar, delivered a Miller Lite draft and pastrami melt to Hanover Hill Health Care Center, where Buote, a 96-year-old World War II veteran, has been stuck since COVID-19 hit more than a year ago.

On Monday, the Union Leader reported on his daughter's unsuccessful efforts to get her father out for an afternoon.

One of his post-pandemic priorities has been to drop by his favorite bar for a beer and a meal.

"If he can't come to me, I guess I'll have to come to him," Laberge said.

Meanwhile, the state has abandoned its April 26 nursing home guidelines, which placed strict conditions on residents' off-property visits.

Jake Leon, a spokesman for the state Department of Health and Human Services, said nursing homes should now find guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Lori McIntire, the administrator of Hanover Hill, said she favors the move because the federal agencies are continually improving their guidelines.

"I think everybody's looking to get back that quality of life for the residents and get back to normal," McIntire said.

About Buote's yen for Billy's, she said: "I wish I could take him myself."

Calculating risk

On April 26, the state issued a 16-page, four-phase reopening guide for nursing homes that set conditions for indoor dining, in-house activities, visitation and visits outside the facility. Just days later, Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette allowed visits for any home not experiencing an outbreak.

Buote's daughter and a handful of others protested at the State House the next day, saying they wanted to take their loved ones on visits outside the nursing home.

Details about the most up-to-date federal guidelines will likely be fleshed out on Wednesday, when nursing home administrators meet with state epidemiologists in their biweekly conference call, said Brendan Williams, president of the New Hampshire Health Care Association, a trade group that represents nursing homes.

Buote, who is fully vaccinated, would be taking a calculated risk if he went to Billy's for a beer, but Williams said it seems like an acceptable risk.

"For us, we need to get to a place where we co-exist with the virus," Williams said. "It's not going away. The question is how do you manage risks?"

He said federal regulations also require nursing homes to provide for the psychosocial health of their residents.

Laura Christy, whose 85-year-old father lives at Hanover Hill, said COVID-19 is the new normal. Like the flu, it will always be around. People will just have to get vaccinated and go on with their lives, she said.

The nursing home is doing nothing wrong, but it has to follow regulations that don't take the new normal into account, she said.

"It breaks your heart every day," she said, "when you hear your father say 'Why did I survive COVID?'"

mhayward@unionleader.com