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Snow totals mount in Rindge as region gets second round

Coming in bands instead of waves, another round of snow coated the Monadnock Region overnight after the weekend’s storm already left plenty to dig out from under.

Rindge was particularly hard hit, with a reported 23.5 inches of snow accumulated as of Tuesday morning, according to Weather Street.

Most of the region got about a foot of snow during the storm that began Sunday, but east of Mount Monadnock, a strong band dumped another 8 to 12 inches through Monday going into Tuesday morning.

Higher elevations also saw between 4 inches and another foot of snow come down Monday.

Power outages were kept at bay as of Tuesday morning through most of the region, with the exception of some pockets of Peterborough, Jaffrey and Rindge, which had up to 50 customers out by 9 a.m., according to Eversource’s map.

Heavier totals east of the mountain led to a second straight day of school closures for the ConVal and Jaffrey-Rindge school districts.

The remaining snowfall caused two-hour delays Tuesday in some local schools, including N.H. School Administrative Unit 29 and the Fall Mountain, IHnsdale Monadnock and Winchester districts.

As for the rest of the storm, radar showed it finally moving off the coast through late Tuesday morning and early afternoon, with no more precipitation anticipated until Friday at the earliest.

More kids on Medicaid to get health care in school

WASHINGTON — A mountain of evidence proves it: Good health translates to better student performance.

Children who have high blood pressure or are obese perform worse academically than others. Children with asthma miss far more school. Students who have healthy diets, who are physically active, who abstain from alcohol and illicit drugs, get better grades.

With that in mind, more than a dozen states are finally taking advantage of a 5-year-old federal policy change that would make it easier for schools to provide health care to millions of children across the country.

Before the change, the federal government barred school-based clinics and providers from billing Medicaid, the joint state-federal health care program for the poor, for care provided to children on the Medicaid rolls. The federal government reversed that policy in 2014, but only now are some states taking advantage of the shift. About 45 million children are enrolled in Medicaid.

One possible reason for the delay is that officials at the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, tend to communicate with their counterparts at state Medicaid agencies and health departments, not departments of education.

Now that they can bill Medicaid, more schools will be able to help students manage chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes and food allergies; offer mental health and addiction treatment; and provide dental, vision, hearing and speech services. Schools that have been providing those services with their own money can now spend it on other things.

“We know kids aren’t getting the health care they need, especially vulnerable populations and children of color,” said Alexandra Mays, executive director of the Healthy Schools Campaign, a Chicago nonprofit that pushed hard for the federal policy change. “Schools are where the children are.”

Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada and North Carolina have received permission from CMS to bill Medicaid for health care in schools. California and Georgia are awaiting approvals, and Colorado and Oregon are preparing paperwork.

“We are very excited, and our school districts are excited as well,” said Wayne Lewis, commissioner for the Department of Education in Kentucky, which received CMS approval in November.

Lewis said the Medicaid money will help Kentucky beef up mental health services in schools. A new Kentucky law directs schools to have at least one school counselor for every 250 students.

In Nevada, which received CMS approval in October, officials also want to deploy more mental health professionals to schools to combat an uptick in suicides and to prevent school shootings.

Suicides among young people nearly doubled in Nevada between 2017 and 2018, according to the state’s health department.

“We feel that getting more hands into the schools to help our teachers is a great thing,” said Christy McGill, director of the Office of Safe and Respectful Learning Environment in the state Department of Education.

The federal ban on Medicaid reimbursement was enacted in 1997, when CMS decided that since schools weren’t charging insurers for health care provided to other students, they couldn’t bill Medicaid for the care they provided to children enrolled in Medicaid. It had a severe impact on schools with a lot of students from low-income families. In Chicago, for example, more than 60 percent of public schoolchildren are enrolled in Medicaid.

“It was just ineptitude,” said Sasha Pudelski, advocacy director at the American Association of School Administrators. “It really wasn’t well thought through.”

The ban allowed schools to bill Medicaid for care provided to students in special education. In 2016, before any state had taken advantage of the 2014 policy change, the federal government spent nearly $4.5 billion on school-based health care for Medicaid-eligible students.

That amounts to less than 1 percent of federal Medicaid spending, but it is one of the top sources of federal dollars for public schools.

A 2018 survey by the school administrators association found that almost 70 percent of school districts used the special education Medicaid money to support the salaries of health professionals. That percentage should increase under the broader reimbursement policy.

Georgia officials want to bill Medicaid for school nurses. They estimate federal reimbursements will increase by nearly $49 million, nearly doubling the amount they currently receive ($54 million) for health care for students with special needs.

But some states don’t know how much Medicaid money they will receive.

In Utah, Scott Jones, deputy superintendent for the state board of education, said the final tally will depend on which health services the legislature and the school districts decide to offer.

“We’re looking at tens of thousands of students, if not hundreds of thousands of students, depending on what services we go after,” said Jones, who has held his position for three years but said he became aware of the policy change only a year ago.

In Kentucky, Lewis, the education commissioner, said school districts will decide whether to pursue more Medicaid money.

But some school officials worry that red tape will deter cash-strapped districts: In the school administrators survey, 43 percent of rural and suburban districts and 37 percent of urban districts said the required paperwork was difficult.

Under Medicaid, each state must match between 50 percent and 77 percent of the federal contribution, depending on its poverty rate. But many states don’t expect to put additional dollars toward health care in schools.

Thomas Stinson, a nurse at Harding High School in St. Paul, Minn., and a member of the American Federation of Teachers committee on health policy, said states would be foolish not to tap into the federal money.

“This is a no-brainer,” Stinson said. “All this talk about the need for mental health and to not be on board? It pisses me off.”

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Planned Parenthood to expand efforts to keep NH's HIV rates low

Planned Parenthood of Northern New England is expanding its HIV prevention services across the Granite State, with a focus on people with substance-use disorders.

Broadening the organization’s HIV Early Intervention Services program will include efforts to increase community awareness of ways to reduce the risk of contracting HIV. It will also involve strengthening collaboration with state and local public health and social services agencies, including groups working in substance-misuse treatment and recovery, the organization said in a news release.

Planned Parenthood’s clinics offer HIV testing, education and medication, according to its website.

The recent announcement from Planned Parenthood of Northern New England came ahead of World AIDS Day Sunday. Established in 1988, the day is observed each year to raise awareness of the AIDS epidemic and mourn the millions of people globally who have died because of it.

New Hampshire has some of the lowest rates of HIV in the nation — 22 adults were diagnosed in 2015, according to the latest data available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the opioid crisis has hit the state particularly hard, and drug use typically leaves people more vulnerable to the virus.

“Those at high risk for substance-use disorders — especially through intravenous substance use — are also at higher risk of contracting or spreading HIV/AIDS and other STDs,” said Derek Edry, communications manager for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

The recently announced initiative focuses on New Hampshire, he said, to keep these numbers low.

“Regardless of how many people have HIV/AIDS, prevention and early intervention is fundamental to achieving better public health outcomes,” Edry said.

Information about the total cost of the initiative and how it’s being funded wasn’t immediately available from Edry Monday afternoon.

Breakthroughs beg for awareness

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), spread primarily through sex or sharing needles, attacks cells that help the body fight infection, making a person more susceptible to other infections.

HIV has no effective cure, but with treatment, it’s no longer the death sentence it once was. Medication can be taken to prevent the virus from spreading within the body; help people lead longer, healthier lives; and also reduce the risk of contracting HIV in the first place.

If left untreated, however, HIV can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), which remains a deadly disease.

As part of its expanded HIV Early Intervention Services program, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England is focused on raising awareness of these medications, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

This pill is used daily by people at very high risk of getting HIV to prevent the infection, according to Planned Parenthood’s website.

High-risk groups include those who use intravenous drugs, those who don’t use condoms during sex, have sex with multiple partners or who’ve recently had another STD.

As part of its awareness initiative, Planned Parenthood will dispense information about HIV prevention on multiple platforms, such as social media, dating sites and through targeted advertisements.

As for the increased collaboration with the public health and social services sectors, Edry said Planned Parenthood will be working with a handful of agencies in the greater Keene area, but the organization hasn’t yet specified which ones.

More information about HIV and AIDS prevention is available at plannedparenthood.org. Keene’s Planned Parenthood clinic, the Keene Health Center, is at 8 Middle St. and can be reached at 352-6898 or https://bit.ly/2P7sc3x.

Michael Moore / Sentinel Staff 

The King is coming ... but when?

Michael Moore / Sentinel Staff

The new Burger King on West Street in Keene is projected to open by the end of the month, Adam Kucharczyk, senior communications analyst for Restaurant Brands International, which owns the Burger King, Popeyes and Tim Hortons brands, wrote in an email last week. Though the eatery, in the Fairbanks Plaza that houses Kohl’s and ALDI, appears ready for business, Kucharczyk did not respond to several phone and email requests for a specific opening date. Calls to the plaza’s owner, Boston-based Unison Partners, were also unanswered. The fast-food chain most recently had a restaurant in Riverside Plaza on Winchester Street, but it closed more than six years ago.