By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — Belknap County Nursing Home Administrator Shelly Richardson has been doing double duty in recent weeks, washing dishes and folding laundry along with her other responsibilities.
She said that she and other members of the administrative team have been taking on those extra chores due to a temporary shortage of workers in the dietary and laundry departments, as well as the lack of inmate labor from the Corrections Department.
She said it was the shortage of labor that led to the use of paper plates and cups for breakfast and to members of the nursing staff having to deliver clean laundry to residents.
Those incidents were discussed in a letter that appeared in Wednesday’s Laconia Daily Sun, signed by four residents of the nursing home.
Richardson said it was a temporary situation, brought about by a dietary worker being out sick and another on leave due to a death in her family.
She said she is no longer doing dishes or folding laundry, having recently hired four people in the dietary department. Richardson said she still has two vacant positions in the dietary department, one of which is part-time, that she is hoping to fill.
She normally has two workers in the laundry department but had only one for a short period of time, creating a shortage there.
The nursing home hasn’t had any inmate labor from the Department of Corrections since Feb. 14 and she said the issue of using inmate labor, which the nursing home has relied on for years, is still unresolved.
Richardson told Belknap County Commissioners when they met last week that she was informed that the county needs to conform to state policies on the use of inmate labor or seek a waiver to continue its past practices.
Commissioner Glen Waring (R-Gilmanton) said that, while it might be a less-than-ideal situation to have inmates working in the nursing home kitchen and laundry, it was something the county needs to do, given the constraints imposed by the budget that the Belknap County Delegation recently approved.
Richardson offered three options to the commission last week, one of which called for spending $154,000 to hire three full-time employees — two in the dietary division and one in the laundry division — while the other two proposals called for assigning the laundry division to the Corrections Department and using inmate labor to supplement the work of the supervisor and one full-time employee or having the supervisor alone directing the inmate labor pool. Since then, another option has been developed, calling for the hiring of two people in the dietary division and leaving the laundry division in the county home.
The use of inmate labor has been a bone of contention in recent years, with Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) supporting the practice and Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Aton) questioning its value.
Two years ago, the county approved a pilot program to pay $3 a day to inmates who worked in the county home kitchen, laundry room or on the grounds. The program was dropped last year after both Carolee Sliker, the dietary manager at the nursing home at the time, and Corrections Department Superintendent Keith Gray said 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 those who do want to work and do a good job are quickly lost, as they qualify for work release programs, which forced the cooks to be constantly training new inmates, which she said involves paying overtime for the cooks.
Sliker resigned her post last fall.
Gray warned last fall that the county faced an inmate labor shortage. He said that many of the inmates who were qualified to work would no longer be available during the week, as they would be taking part full-time in the CORE program at the newly opened Belknap County Community Corrections Center.
Commissioners are expected to take up Richardson’s recommendations when they meet Tuesday, March 13, at the Belknap County Complex.