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Cheshire Fair set to return in full swing this week
  • Updated

NORTH SWANZEY — The 82nd Cheshire Fair will include a full mix of animals, shows, food, music and activities Thursday through Sunday after the COVID-19 pandemic led to a cancellation of the event in 2020 and curtailed offerings last year.

The only thing missing this year will be the poultry, which are being excluded because of avian flu, said Laurie Burt, a fair manager.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture puts out news releases when domestic birds get the disease. So far, it has reported only one such incident in the state, which involved a backyard flock in Rockingham County this spring. The USDA also has a national map, updated in mid-July, which shows 59 cases of the disease in wild birds this year in New Hampshire. Most of these birds were waterfowl and none of the cases were in Cheshire County. The state has recommended against poultry shows in New Hampshire as a precaution.

At the fairgrounds on Route 12 Monday, workers were busy making preparations for the livestock, and other attractions, that will be at this year’s fair.

“We’re having a midway with rides, we’re having all kinds of 4-H shows, we’re having animal shows, we’ve got full entertainment this year,” she said. “We have beef cattle, dairy cattle, we have a milking parlor, we have draft horses, oxen, sheep, goats and bunnies.”

There will also be tractor pulls, a demolition derby and dog performances. There will be a tent full of butterflies. Plants are placed in the enclosure and butterflies are then brought in while in a dormant state and then released, Burt said.

Fairs were canceled around the state in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, instead of a full fair, organizers decided instead to host the first-ever Cheshire Ag Days, a scaled-back event more focused on farming.

Burt said she’s looking forward to a return to normalcy for the fair this year, and expects the event to attract people from out of the area, including those who will camp on-site in motor homes.

“It feels wonderful to return to a normal fair,” she said. “If the weather cooperates with us, we should have a banner year.

“You can already see everybody is excited. There are new vendors wanting to come in. It makes you feel good. It really does.”

Some of the off-beat events tend to be crowd favorites such as the frying-pan toss, a female-dominated event where competitors vie to see who can throw a skillet the longest distance, and the pig scramble, where people try to catch piglets in a grain bag.

Participants are given directions on how to capture the pigs without doing them harm, although some animal rights activists have objected to the event in the past.

“You go into a fenced-in area and the piglets are let loose,” Burt said. “If you catch it, you get to keep it. We have quite a few children who enter.”

Contestants fill out an application to make sure they live on a property where they can keep a pig.

“There is a litany. We don’t just let some child living in an apartment house take a pig home and let the mother freak out on us.”

It’s harder to catch a pig than you might think. They may weigh as much as 40 pounds. “Have you ever tried to catch a pig?” Burt asked. “Pigs are very fast. They squeal when you touch them. If you’re afraid of pigs at all, most people jump back when they squeal.”

Burt, who lives in Westmoreland, owns five pigs herself, but no longer chases them. “I actually call the neighbor and scream a lot when my pigs get out,” she said. “I don’t run. My running days are over. I ask my neighbor, ‘Can you help me get this pig back in?”

General admission for the fair at 247 Monadnock Highway in North Swanzey is $12, children 5-11 is $5, seniors 65 and older are $5, military with an ID are free as are children ages 4 and younger. On Thursday, children 11 and under are free and seniors are free on Sunday.

The fair will be open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., except for Sunday, when it concludes at 8 p.m. More details and a full schedule of events are available at www.cheshirefair.org.


State_news
Rising costs, staffing shortages pose challenges for NH camps

As the final days of summer are approaching, summer camps in New Hampshire are already thinking ahead to next season — and weighing how to weather the ongoing challenges of staffing shortages, rising costs and more.

New Hampshire Camp Directors Association President Ken Robbins, who also leads Camp Kabeyun in Alton, said at his camp, enrollment is back up to pre-pandemic levels. But inflation is adding a new set of pressures.

“Most camps are already something of a shoestring operation when it comes to getting the supplies that they need to run activities,” Robbins said. “The costs are what they are, and certainly everyone needs to eat, staff needs to be paid with what they are worth. And so now the show must go on, if you will.”

With that in mind, Robbins said it could be a tricky balance to set tuition and fees in the coming year. If costs are too high, he could lose out on families who can’t afford to send their kids any longer. If costs are too low, it gets harder to keep the doors open amid rising prices for food, utilities and more.

He said at Camp Kabeyun, demand for tuition assistance is as high as it has ever been this year — and he expects that to grow.

“We’re going to see that more next year than we would have this past year,” Robbins said.

This is just one piece of the puzzle facing camp leaders across the state, he said.

“The shrinking summer, the expanding school calendar is a big challenge for camps,” Robbins said. “Availability of staff is a big factor for setting a camp calendar, but it’s all little pieces that go into a much more complex puzzle.”

Similar pressures are being felt at Copper Cannon Camp in Bethlehem. For nearly 60 years, Copper Cannon has offered a free overnight summer camp experience for qualifying low-income families.

Executive Director Peter Christnacht said he’s always relied on donations and fundraising to keep Copper Cannon’s doors open. This year, he said, it’s getting more expensive to keep everyone fed and keep the lights on — but they’re doing their best.

“As inflation continues, I mean, next year, I think is going to be more of a struggle,” he said. “It’s going to be really interesting, especially with gas prices going up, heating oil going up.”

Christnacht said rising electricity prices will also likely hit camps hard in the year ahead, too.

“I saw Eversource plans on doubling their electrical rate,” he said. “And it’s going to have a huge impact on how camps in general proceed.”

Day camps are feeling it just as much as residential camps this summer, but one provider is trying out a new benefit to recruit more staff amid ongoing shortages.

Chris Emond, the CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Central New Hampshire, said his organization started offering free, on-site childcare to all of its employees this summer. The goal, Emond said, is to try to reach people who are open to working in childcare but worry about affording care for their own families.

“We have had some anecdotal success of people applying and saying, ‘Yeah, I’m ready to come back,’ ” he said. “So that’s good. They’re coming back into the industry.”

he industry.”

Emond said the Boys & Girls Club of Central New Hampshire is also looking at expanding eligibility for financial assistance to reach more families at higher income levels, to account for rising inflation.

New Hampshire’s Department of Education is also offering another program meant to make camp and childcare more affordable to Granite State families. For the second year in a row, the agency is offering scholarships of up to $650 to cover fees at overnight or day camps. More information on eligibility and participating providers is available here.


Healthlab
top story
Cheshire Medical Center
Cheshire Medical reaches settlement with state, keeps pharmacy permit with restrictions
  • Updated

Cheshire Medical Center reached a settlement with the N.H. Board of Pharmacy late last week, allowing the Keene hospital to keep its pharmacy permit with various restrictions, including regular audits of its controlled substances, and pay up to $235,000 in fines and fees.

The Dartmouth Health affiliate’s pharmacy permit was on the line after the state pharmacy board learned earlier this year of gallons of fentanyl solutions lost or unaccounted for at the hospital since last fall.

The board voted May 25 “to initiate a disciplinary action” against Cheshire Medical for the drug losses, according to documents from the N.H. Office of Professional Licensure and Certification (OPLC).

A pharmacy permit is required to run a pharmacy in New Hampshire, including those that hospitals operate internally to dispense medication to inpatients.

Cheshire Medical reached a settlement agreement with the board on July 28, which, if obeyed, will resolve all disciplinary actions against the hospital regarding the drug loss.

In the 12-page settlement, the hospital acknowledged that the months-long incident “could constitute grounds for the Board of impose disciplinary sanctions” against it.

The drug loss at Cheshire Medical dates back to last September, with about 8.8 gallons of fentanyl solution reportedly unaccounted for at the hospital as of June 5. An ICU nurse self-reported in February that she’d stolen hundreds of bags of the drug.

However, following the nurse’s death in March and after remedial measures were put in place, documents from the OPLC state that drugs still went missing.

Cheshire Medical admitted in the settlement that the additional drug loss was “due to nurses failing to sufficiently document the administration or waste of fentanyl.” The settlement also notes that a surge of COVID-19 patients last winter created unprecedented challenges for operating the pharmacy.

Under the terms of the settlement, Cheshire Medical’s pharmacy permit is restricted for three years.

Those restrictions stipulate that the hospital must by October employ a third-party monitor, approved by the board, to conduct controlled substance audits. These reviews will be done weekly for the first four months, and monthly in the subsequent eight months, the settlement reads. For the remaining two years, the audits will be performed quarterly.

Additionally, Cheshire Medical must appoint two different employees for the positions of pharmacist-in-charge and director of pharmacy. During the time of the drug loss, both those roles were held by Melissa Siciliano, who also recently reached a settlement with the board after previously facing disciplinary sanctions.

The hospital can petition the state board after two years of compliance with the restrictions to have them lifted, the settlement notes.

Cheshire Medical’s agreement also requires it to pay an administrative fine of $225,000, though all but $45,000 is suspended if the hospital complies with the settlement. That $45,000 is due in 30 days. The hospital must also pay for the investigation and prosecution costs, totaling $10,000, within 30 days.

The settlement also requires that Cheshire Medical continue to comply with the investigation into the drug loss.

That criminal investigation, by the Drug Enforcement Administration, is ongoing, a spokeswoman for the federal agency said Monday.

“Our top priority is to deliver high quality care and to provide a safe patient and employee environment … ,” the hospital said in a written statement on the settlement Monday. “Since the theft of the controlled substance that we discovered and reported earlier this year, we have been intensely focused on taking steps to prevent future occurrences.”

These steps, the statement says, include extensive training and education of clinical staff, hiring specialized drug diversion prevention specialists and implementing new practices for oversight.

Other settlements

In connection with the drug loss, the OPLC has disciplined several other employees at Cheshire Medical in their supervisory roles. No hospital employees aside from the ICU nurse have been accused of stealing the drugs themselves.

Siciliano, the former pharmacy director and pharmacy-in-charge, had her license suspended in March and reinstated in mid-April. She reached a settlement agreement with the state July 20, requiring her to pay a fine and banning her from acting as a pharmacist-in-charge for three years.

Prior to that settlement, Siciliano resigned from her role at Cheshire Medical. She still works in pharmacy, according to her attorney, Rick Fradette, who declined to say where she works.

The board of pharmacy also suspended pharmacist Richard Crowe’s license in March. He reached a similar settlement with the state board the same day as Siciliano, restricting him from practicing as a hospital pharmacist and to pay a fine.

Cheshire Medical’s Chief Nursing Officer Amy Matthews received an emergency suspension of her license in late May, but following a hearing with the state nursing board in June, had her license reinstated.

Matthews is no longer the hospital’s chief nursing officer.

Anne Tyrol, associate chief nursing officer at Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital in Lebanon — also an affiliate of Dartmouth Health — is Cheshire Medical’s acting chief nursing officer, spokesman Matthew Barone told The Sentinel on Thursday.

He has continuously declined to say whether Matthews is an employee at Cheshire Medical, citing a “long-standing practice ... [to] not comment on specific questions related to personnel.”

This article has been updated with comment from Cheshire Medical Center.Funding for the Monadnock Region Health Reporting Lab comes from several sources, including The Sentinel and several local businesses and private donors. We continue to seek additional support. The newsroom maintains full editorial control over all content produced by the lab.

Olivia Belanger can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1439, or obelanger@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @OBelangerKS.


State_news
NH presidential primary
DNC delays decision on presidential primary calendar to after November, prolonging uncertainty

The Democratic National Committee’s Rules and Bylaws Committee will wait until after this year’s November midterm elections to recommend which states should lead the presidential primary process, the committee told states this weekend. The delay came as a surprise to political observers, who had expected the committee to issue a final recommendation as early as this Saturday.

In a letter sent to DNC members Saturday and obtained by the Bulletin, DNC chairman Jason Rae said postponing the decision is “the best way to move forward” for the committee. Rae did not elaborate on why DNC leadership made the decision.

The news prompted accusations from New Hampshire’s Republican Party that the decision was made to shield New Hampshire Democrats such as Sen. Maggie Hassan from potential blowback should the committee recommend removing New Hampshire from its first-in-the-nation primary status.

The committee has been meeting for weeks to decide whether to rearrange its early nominating calendar for president ahead of the 2024 election. That calendar has long featured Iowa, which holds caucuses, as the first nominating state and New Hampshire as the first primary state. But amid some concern over a lack of diversity in those two states, as well as a highly publicized systemic breakdown during the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses, the DNC’s application process has received renewed attention this year.

In June, the Rules and Bylaws Committee heard presentations from 17 states, each making a pitch to be one of the first five states in the nominating calendar. New Hampshire’s delegation, which included Hassan and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, brought gift bags and argued that the state has proven itself an efficient elections operator that forces candidates to interact with individual voters. Hassan and Shaheen also said that a decision to take away New Hampshire’s lead position could hurt Hassan’s re-election chances this November — if Granite Staters blamed Hassan for the decision.

In a memo to Rules and Bylaws Committee members sent Saturday, committee co-chairs Minyon Moore and Jim Roosevelt said the committee was still in the process of vetting bids from the 17 states and has sent certain states “several final but critical questions regarding election administration and feasibility in their states.”

“As we mentioned last week, we continue to be very pleased with the progress applicants are making on answering these questions,” Moore and Roosevelt wrote.

Roosevelt and Moore did not set a specific date by which the Rules and Bylaws Committee would make its recommendation and did not explain why it decided to move it to after the election. According to DNC rules, any recommendation by the committee would need to be approved by the full DNC for a vote, “which DNC leadership has assured us they will make happen as soon after the midterm elections as is possible,” Moore and Roosevelt wrote.

Any final decision by the DNC to topple New Hampshire’s position could create headaches for the state. State law requires the secretary of state to set the date of the calendar earlier than any other state. And both parties’ primary elections have been traditionally held the same day. The Republican National Committee already voted in April to affirm the positions of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada in 2024 as the first, second, third, and fourth nominating states, respectively.

New Hampshire Republicans have criticized the deliberations from national Democrats and argued the delay announced Saturday was a political decision.

“This has everything to do with protecting Maggie Hassan’s re-election,” wrote New Hampshire Republican Party Executive Director Elliot Gault on Twitter Saturday. “(The GOP) has already set their calendar keeping NH first.”

New Hampshire Democratic Chairman Ray Buckley has rebuffed suggestions that the primary is in trouble. “Elliot, don’t be a troll,” Buckley replied to Gault on Twitter.

“Granite Staters have demonstrated time and again that presidential candidates, no matter who they are, where they come from, or how much money they have, will get a fair shot here,” Buckley said in a statement Monday. “I have the utmost confidence that we will retain our status as first-in-the-nation.”

Gov. Chris Sununu, meanwhile, has taken a more collaborative view, saying in a press conference Wednesday that he was “firmly with” Buckley on the question of the primary.

“The rest of America should really want us to keep the first-in-the-nation primary, because it’s New Hampshire that constantly re-instills integrity in the system after states like Iowa screwed up, frankly,” Sununu, a Republican, said.

He added: “It’s not about popularity. It’s who goes out and engages the voters the best at the most real way on a constituent one-on-one level.”


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