LACONIA — The ability to make pay at the Belknap County Nursing Home more competitive — in order to retain existing staff and attract others to apply for numerous job openings that have gone begging — are essential for it to be viable in the future, county commissioners are stressing.

That was what the commissioners emphasized at their meeting Thursday, four days before the County Delegation’s Executive Committee is due to resume its review of the commissioners’ proposed budget for the nursing home.

On Monday the panel is due to tackle the proposed budget for nursing services, which at $7.6 million accounts for 57% of the proposed overall nursing home budget of $13.4 million. Just over 51% of the money for nursing services is earmarked for wages — both full-time and part-time. By comparison, the 2021 nursing home budget was $11.6 million, of which about $6 million was for nursing services..

The Executive Committee meeting is set to begin at 6 p.m. on Monday at the County Complex on North Main Street.

Commissioner Glen Waring said the proposed nursing home budget contains the funds necessary to bring the nursing home staff back up to full strength, which he said needs to happen in order for the nursing home to return to its licensed capacity of 98 residents. The home is operating at two-thirds capacity now due to staff shortages.

Being able to increase the number of residents will result in the home taking in more money from Medicaid reimbursements and other insurance payments. At full capacity the home would be expected to take in $12.2 million in revenue, according to the commissioners’ budget.

“I hope we’re able to get the Executive Committee to see that methodology,” Waring said.

As he has in past meetings, Commission Chair Peter Spanos said the commission is waiting for the results of a wage study which will hopefully be completed in May. He said he expected that given prevailing wages at other health-care facilities in the area, the study will likely recommend wages that are much higher than what the commissioners are now recommending in their budget package.

In late November the commissioners boosted the pay scale for county employees, resulting in raises of $3 to $5 an hour for many workers. Those proposed raises are reflected in the $33.4 million budget.

Just under $18.2 million of the budget total would be raised by local property taxes.

County Administrator Debra Shackett told the commissioners the Executive Committee “seemed upset” with the new wage increases.

“They didn’t have any sense of the big picture and the community impact,” she said.

Spanos said he considers the nursing home an essential human service.

“We’re not a viable county without a nursing home,” he said.

He noted that residents in the nursing home are people who have been productive members of their community who now do not have other family members who can care for them as they grow older and their health needs increase.

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