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N.H. Hospital psychiatrists look to unionize



Monitor staff
Saturday, April 23, 2016

Dr. Matthew Davis has treated patients at New Hampshire Hospital – a state-run psychiatric facility in Concord – for the last four years.

But come June 30, Davis isn’t sure where his job will stand.

He’s part of a group of 17 psychiatrists and nurses at the hospital trying to unionize as it faces a change in employer and a dearth of information.

While most of the staff at New Hampshire Hospital are state employees, the psychiatrists are employed by Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine and work at the hospital under a state contract.

But as Geisel undergoes a major reorganization, the psychiatrists say they are being shifted from the medical school to Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

The transition is set to take place June 30, but Davis and other psychiatrists say they can’t get any information from either employer about their job status, salaries, retirement benefits or vacation time.

The lack of information, Davis said, is creating “growing angst,” and staff are starting to seek employment elsewhere.

“We fear that the actions of these employers will lead to a gradual attrition of psychiatric staff over the ensuing months,” he said.

The 17 psychiatrists and nurses are waiting for a decision from the National Labor Relations Board that will determine whether they can try to unionize. “We feel that collectively bargaining provides us the best chance to ensure that there is a viable psychiatric staff in place at NHH as of July 1,” Davis said.

Dartmouth College did not answer the Monitor’s specific questions about the union or the psychiatrists’ employment status.

“This is part of a much bigger transition,” spokeswoman Diana Lawrence, said in an email.

The Valley News reported Wednesday that Geisel will eliminate 30 jobs as part of the reorganization, and 285 former Geisel employees will be hired by Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

Davis said the college told him he would receive a layoff letter in the coming weeks, and a subsequent note from Dartmouth-Hitchcock inviting him to apply for the same job.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock is also seeking to take over Geisel’s contract with New Hampshire Hospital after it expires June 30. Dartmouth-Hitchcock is the only organization that bid for the next state contract to provide psychiatric services at the hospital.

It’s not clear if, or how, the bid may be affected by the employee transition. Davis said he and others did not sign letters pledging their intent to work for Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

“We don’t know anything. We don’t know the benefits, we don’t know the salary,” said Dr. Katya Hurst, a psychiatrist who began working at New Hampshire Hospital a year ago. “We just want a place at the negotiation table to have a discussion about what we’re asked to sign. None of us wants to leave.”

Dartmouth-Hitchcock submitted its bid last Friday, and hasn’t received a state response yet, a spokesman said.

Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers said the state procurement process “is ongoing.” The bid proposal is not publicly available.

Any proposal will become public eventually because state contracts need sign-off from the five-member Executive Council.

Geisel Department of Psychiatry faculty began working at New Hampshire Hospital in 1988 through a contractual agreement with the state. Dartmouth-Hitchcock spokesman Rick Adams said the organization looks forward to continuing that relationship.

“Mental illness, emotional and mood disorders, addictive behaviors, and other afflictions of the mind are critical issues to the health of the people and communities we serve,” he said. “Dartmouth-Hitchcock is committed to providing the best care and to supporting research to ensure that the care we deliver continues to be of the highest quality.”