The news was as welcome as a slug in the gut: LRGHealthcare, the largest employer in the region, is going to furlough 500 full-time workers for four months.
Whether it actually was a death rattle remains to be seen. We hope not, but it's safe to assume the impact of the furloughs is going to rock the region to its foundation and devastate the local economy, even if some of the workers get called back early.
Most of the people affected work at Lakes Region General Hospital and Franklin Regional Hospital, the two main components of LRGHealthcare, which has lost 40 percent of its revenue since the coronavirus pandemic spread to the U.S., and resulted in the cancellation of all elective surgeries and other activities that generate revenue.
They will retain employees needed to staff emergency services and treatment of patients afflicted by COVID-19.
While the stimulus bill recently passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump earmarked $100 billion in aid for hospitals, that the money has not arrived yet in local coffers should come as no great surprise, given that the federal government is typically about as nimble as an aircraft carrier trying to make a U-turn.
LRGH leadership, to its credit, have been pretty forthcoming about the state of their finances over the past several months. Last year they said they were losing about $1 million a month while they looked for another health care entity that could join them in a long-term partnership. But given the huge debt load LRGH is carrying on its books, potential suitors have been skittish about partnering up with LRGH.
We don't know if that made them more vulnerable to the current economic catastrophe than other health care facilities, but there is little doubt that this is a catastrophe.
“I think it will have a significant and detrimental impact to local economy,” Laconia Mayor Andrew Hosmer said. “These are 500 good-paying jobs, supporting families.
The impact will undoubtedly be felt in every sector of the economy.
“This trickles down to not just those furloughed but to car dealerships, restaurants, dry cleaners,” Hosmer said. He could have gone on and on.
Hosmer's underlying point is one that has been brought into stark relief in recent weeks — we are all in this together.
We knew it, of course, but probably took it for granted. We are so accustomed to being socially and economically connected that it's easy to forget how much we depend on each other.
Nothing like having our world turned upside down to remind us.
There was a small moment, witnessed by a manager at the Market Basket grocery store in Tilton, that might stand as a monument to these times.
"You need it more than I do," said one customer, taking an item from her grocery cart and placing it in that of a fellow shopper.
We don't doubt that there have been innumerable such acts of kindness that have gone unnoticed. While fear has fueled panic buying and left some store shelves empty, we are fortunate to live in a place where kindness seems as much reflexive as conscious decision in the face of unprecedented social and economic upheaval.
We can take heart that most people seem to be taking the virus threat seriously and heeding advisories issued by local, state and federal authorities that encourage us to stay home and, when we have to go out, stay safely apart.
We are also fortunate, in a way, that we can stay connected via the internet in a way that our ancestors who lived through the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 never could. Most of us — even if it's only via FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, or some other video app — can stay in touch with siblings, parents, children, grandchildren, cousins, nieces and nephews and close friends.
We are also fortunate to live in a time when health care professionals understand the pathology of infectious diseases so much better than a hundred years ago. For that we can thank science, which seems to have taken a a beating in some quarters of late.
Doctors and nurses rely on science, and we are grateful to have them in our corner during these difficult times, along with first responders, store clerks, truck drivers and all manner of public servants whose jobs are so essential that they can't work from home.
Others are pitching in as well. Crafters are making masks, restaurants are feeding the hungry, and a signmaker is raising money for Got Lunch!
No one can do everything, but everyone can do something — even if it's just staying home.