Inmate labor shortage looms at Belknap County Nursing Home


LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners are looking for ways to deal with a looming shortage of inmate labor for the Belknap County Nursing Home.
The situation will become critical starting Oct. 16, when inmates in the Corrections Opportunity for Recovery and Education program at the Belknap County House of Corrections will start attending programs five days a week from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will be available to work in the kitchen and laundry at the nursing home only on weekends.
The CORE program has been operating three days a week but has expanded to five days a week now that the new Community Corrections Center is open and its classroom space is available. It is also expected that more inmates will be taking part in the CORE program.
Belknap County Corrections Superintendent Keith Gray said that eight inmates currently eligible to work at the nursing home will no longer be available as they are in the CORE program. And, with the jail population dropping in recent months to the mid 60s, it is difficult to know from day to day how many inmates will be available for work in either the kitchen or laundry areas.
Gray said that even if he had an unlimited number of inmates available, there would still be problems with the inmate workers as nursing home employees are not trained to deal with inmates.
The problem is particularly acute on the second shift when four prisoners are working, two as dishwashers, one cleaning pots and pans and another mopping the floor.
Nursing Home Administrator Shelly Richardson said she has had many kitchen workers on the second shift complain about the poor quality of work from the inmates.
“The cooks on the night shift are stressed. They are there with the prisoners all by themselves,” said Richardson.
Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) asked if it was possible to have a Corrections Department officer overseeing what the inmates are doing during the time they are working in the kitchen. Gray said it would require having two officers in the kitchen each day and wondered if that was the best use of their time.
Two years ago the county approved a pilot program to pay inmates who worked in the county home kitchen, laundry room or on the grounds $3 a day. The program was dropped last year after both Carolee Sliker, dietary manager at the nursing home, and Gray said that it wasn't working as intended.
Sliker said at that time that the program had produced "a parade of inmates coming through the kitchen who have behavior issues and do not want to work."
She said that those who do want to work and do a good job are quickly lost as they qualify for work release programs, requiring the cooks to be constantly training new inmates, which she said involves paying overtime for the cooks.
Richardson has proposed that the county hire 10 dishwashers and one laundry aide starting on May 1 to resolve the problems with relying on inmate labor. They would be paid $10.61 an hour and be eligible for health insurance. Cost for the eight months would be $310,674.
DeVoy said that he strongly favors continuing to use inmate labor and asked if it would be possible to include working for the county for at least 30 days as part of the sentencing in Superior Court.
Belknap County Attorney Andrew Livernois said that DeVoy's suggestion would involve a change in sentencing recommendations made by police and that in the case of inmates with drug problems treatment is seen as the immediate goal, with work experience a lower level priority.
DeVoy also suggested outsourcing the kitchen work to a private contractor.
Commissioner Glen Waring (R-Gilmanton) said that the problem is coming at the county in just a few days and asked that Gray and Richardson come up with a short-term plan to get the county through the months ahead with as little disruption as possible.

Wednesday open house to focus on Belmont town building needs


BELMONT — Residents will have an opportunity to rank the needs and issues of 12 public buildings following an open house on Wednesday at Belmont High School.

The Belmont Facility Strategy Committee has scheduled the event to run from 4 to 7:30 p.m., with the committee holding a question-and-answer period at 6. The purpose of the open house is to find out what residents consider to be the biggest and most pressing issues with town facilities, including the Town Hall, library, police department, Belmont Mill and the bank building.

“We want to move toward a coherent strategy,” said Donna Hepp, who organized the committee after voters had rejected previous plans for the old mill and Town Hall.

Hepp said residents may have different priorities from what the town has considered in the past, so each person attending the open house will be asked to fill out a comment sheet. There will be room to offer comments and suggestions that may identify other priorities.

Selectmen approved Hepp’s request to form the committee after voters at this year’s Town Meeting said the mill should be used for town offices or community services, or should be sold, but did not include any funding. Hepp proposed looking at all town-owned buildings, rather than focusing on one or two, with an eye toward identifying a range of options that might be presented to voters at next year’s deliberative session.

Those options might be remodeling, shifting functions to other spaces, or continuing to operate as they currently do.

“If we stay the same, there’s still the cost of maintaining 12 buildings,” Hepp said. “The sky isn’t falling on anyone right now, but we may not have the best functional environment.”

The open house will have information tables that describe each building and some of the issues the committee has identified. The police department and the Town Hall seem to have the biggest needs, Hepp said, but people may want to address issues with other buildings first.

Some of the problems the committee will be discussing are the lack of space for an expanded dispatch operation at the police department, as well as the lack of storage for both records and long-term evidence. The police department is also putting rooms into multiple purposes rather than having dedicated space for interviews and training.

The library does not meet all of the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and it has shelf space for half of the books recommended for a community of Belmont’s size.

Like the police department, the Town Hall needs additional storage space, and is short on office space, with some offices located in the basement. The second story cannot be used because of a compromised roof.

The Belmont Mill currently has restrictions on use because of grant funding it has received, but those restrictions expire in 2019, allowing the town to consider additional functions there.

The fire station has sufficient space right now, but it soon may need more room to accommodate additional firefighters.

“Everyone’s been doing a great job of making do,” Hepp said, “but we want to highlight the issues, so we can zero in on what’s most important to Belmont residents. We’re working toward having options based on citizen feedback, and explore the option before investing money in anything.

“We feel we’re working for both the selectmen and town citizens, so we want to start by focusing on all town buildings, and once we know what’s most important, we can share a range of options.”

Other members of the Belmont Facility Strategy Committee are Tom Garfield, Carmen Lorenz and Pret Tuthill.


Kickoff event includes proclamation of Manufacturing Month


NORTHFIELD — Eptam Plastics played host to the kickoff event of Manufacturing Month in New Hampshire on Friday, offering a plant tour at the end of the formal networking meeting.

Manufacturing Month is designed to let people know of the products made here, and the high-paying jobs that are associated with them.

A proclamation from Gov. Chris Sununu recognized Oct. 6 as National Manufacturing Day, and Zenagui Brahim, president of the New Hampshire Manufacturing Extension Partnership, described the organization’s efforts to make students aware of the opportunities to make a diverse range of products in the state.

The partnership invites high school and middle school students on field trips to see how products are made, and Brahim said students from 49 schools had made 1,900 visits so far in 2017. The collaboration between educators and manufacturers is designed to help build the state’s future workforce.

The organization also published a magazine, “Cool Stuff Made in New Hampshire,” to showcase the range of manufacturing opportunities in New Hampshire, from dental implants to parts for jet engines.

Brahim also recognized the efforts of the Belknap Economic Development Council in connecting students with employers.

Manufacturers throughout the state have been pointing to the lack of a skilled workforce as being among their top concerns. High schools have only recently begun focusing on high-technology skills, often partnering with community colleges and directly with manufacturers to give students credits they can use toward college, and skills that they can leverage into full-time employment upon graduation.

Gary Groleau, corporate manager of New Hampshire Ball Bearings, Inc., serves on the advisory boards of both the New Hampshire Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the National Institute For Standards and Technology. He said the Lakes Region Manufacturing Association had to navigate troubled waters during the Great Recession, learning of the need to be resilient. Until then, manufacturers “never thought about a partnership with banking,” but today the finance community is as important as the partnerships with the community college system and economic development groups.

To drive that point home, David Mansfield, chief executive officer of The Provident Bank, related his company’s role in business success. The Provident specializes in areas typical banks do not handle, such as mergers and acquisitions and financing for export companies. He said the bank is able to offer 100 percent deposit insurance and will customize financing to clients’ needs.

He cited Waterville Valley’s efforts to bring in high-efficiency snowmaking, and said the company was looking for help from the French Export-Import Bank because it could not find any local financing. The Provident was able to put together a combination of creative and traditional financing to provide for everything the ski resort was looking to accomplish.

The bank recognizes the workforce challenges companies face and it is developing industry-specific programs to place trained employees in the workforce. With 95 percent of the goods manufactured here being sold outside the United States, the bank also focuses on providing the knowledge businesses need to do exporting.

The tour that followed the meeting allowed those attending to see the diverse products that Eptam manufactures.

Chief Operating Officer Russell Nadeau said Eptam produces 30 percent of its products for the medical industry, 30 percent for aerospace, and 30 percent for semiconductor devices, with a scattering of other products. The percentages are by design, he said, to ensure that the company maintains a focus on each market, and they are constantly innovating to remain at the forefront of their sector.

He explained that Eptam specializes in products that require high-end polymers, such as those in the aerospace industry, and in highly complex products made of low-cost polymers.

One client told Nadeau that, of the 1,100 manufacturers that company deals with, Eptam was the only one that could handle the high-end polymers.

“These are high-temperature, mission-critical parts,” Nadeau said, “and we’re the only ones that can produce them.”

Yet New Hampshire also has manufacturers that create things people use every day: Velcro, firefighter gear, even beer. Getting the word out is what Manufacturing Month is all about.

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Gary Groleau, corporate manager of New Hampshire Ball Bearings, Inc., addresses business leaders during the kickoff of Manufacturing Month at Eptam Plastics of Northfield on Oct. 6. At left are Zenagui Brahim, president of the New Hampshire Manufacturing Extension Partnership, and Russell Nadeau, Eptam COO. (Tom Caldwell/Laconia Daily Sun)