FILE - NH nursing, nursing homes, nurses 5-6-2019

Advocates for nursing reforms applaud while gathered May 6, 2019, outside the Statehouse in Concord, New Hampshire.

(The Center Square) – Nursing homes and long-term care facilities in New Hampshire will have access to a larger employment pool under a bill signed by Gov. Chris Sununu.

The measure, which passed the Legislature earlier this month, allows EMTs, paramedics, and those with military experience to forgo the required training courses expected of nursing assistants and apply for a professional license from the state.

The changes are aimed at addressing a chronic shortage of nursing assistants and were included in a package of pandemic related emergency regulations that have been extended.

Sununu signed an executive order last year easing requirements for nursing assistant licensing during the height of the pandemic, but the temporary rules have expired.

Some lawmakers raised concerns that easing the qualifications for becoming a licensed nursing assistant might compromise elderly care. Others noted that nurses licenced under the new requirements would be coming to the job with previous experience in emergency medicine and could help with future outbreaks in nursing homes.

Exactly how many workers will take advantage of the new law remains unclear.

Only 35 individuals applied for a nursing license under the emergency orders last year, according to the state Office of Professional Licensure and Certification.

Like most states, New Hampshire's nursing homes were hit hard during the pandemic with large numbers of COVID-19 infections and deaths.

Even before the pandemic, New Hampshire's policymakers struggled with staffing shortages at nursing homes.

The state has lost more than 1,200 nursing assistants in recent years, according to the New Hampshire Health Care Association.

Low Medicaid reimbursement rates in the state make it difficult for long-term facilities to retain workers and keep salaries competitive, the association has noted.

Another executive order signed by Sununu provided $300 per week stipends for nursing home workers during the pandemic, but the federal funding for the stipends has expired.