My Turn: The truth behind New Hampshire Hospital

For the Monitor
Published: 9/29/2016 12:33:45 AM

The critical mental health needs of those in treatment at New Hampshire Hospital and the hopes of those who love them should be a priority for our state, regardless of party or political persuasion. Real progress has been made at the hospital in the aftermath of a federal lawsuit, but more needs to happen and I am optimistic it will.

How we can improve the care and outcomes for those with mental illness, whether at the hospital or at our Community Mental Health Centers, is always a timely and important discussion to have. Differing views are welcome and no one is all-knowing. But almost everyone agrees we can and should do better.

In a democracy, politics has its place for sure and it will properly be a part of any discussion about appropriating, spending and stewarding federal and state funds to treat mental illness. But sometimes politics lets us down and takes our eye off the ball.

Such is sadly the case with the recent posturing surrounding Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s state contract to provide psychiatric services at New Hampshire Hospital. But facts matter and it serves all of us well to know them.

Here’s the history. Dartmouth College had provided clinical care to New Hampshire Hospital for almost 30 years through its nationally-respected Geisel School of Medicine until this past summer. Because of the negative financial impact on the medical school, effective June 30, 2016, Geisel terminated most of its Department of Psychiatry employees, including 19 who were providers at New Hampshire Hospital.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock, a separate entity, hired almost all those who were laid off by Geisel and stepped up to take over Dartmouth’s former role.

When the state put the New Hampshire Hospital contract out to bid, Dartmouth-Hitchcock was the only bidder. The governor and
Executive Council unanimously approved it.

A few days later Dartmouth-Hitchcock announced it would be laying off approximately 270 to 460 employees from its workforce of 9,200. Dr. Jim Weinstein, the CEO of Dartmouth-Hitchcock, made clear that none of the expected layoffs would come from staffing at New Hampshire Hospital. He reiterated that in writing and in person to the governor and the Council, as well as the Commissioner of Health and Human Services who had asked originally that the Dartmouth-Hitchcock contract be approved.

Then the politics of personal attack began. The claim was made that Gov. Hassan didn’t know about the layoffs in advance but should have and had been needlessly duped or at worst failed to do her due diligence. Dr. Weinstein, it was asserted, had conspired to hide the layoffs until the contract was approved to mislead the governor, and Council and even the commissioner. None of the claims as it turned out was true.

The members of the Council, the governor and Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers had all done their jobs well and acted in the best interest of the state and those needing critical services at the New Hampshire Hospital.

It was sad to witness. In the end and after the unseemly politics of personal destruction and accusation had been unleashed, Dr. Weinstein, a national and respected leader in health care reform and the steward of an extraordinary New Hampshire asset, had to reassure everyone that the small percentage of layoffs would have zero impact on the New Hampshire Hospital contract and that he never mentioned the layoffs because he knew that they had no relevance or impact on the contracted services for the hospital.

He said he had duped no one. Should he have mentioned the layoffs in advance of the contract’s approval? Probably as a matter of coincidental information, but they have no effect whatsoever on the services Dartmouth-Hitchcock contracted to provide. I have come to know Jim Weinstein and I respect his word.

At the end of the day the contract remains in place as it should. No one was derelict or deceitful. Were it not for Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s willingness to step up and provide critical services at New Hampshire Hospital for the state and the patients there, when no one else was willing to, we would all be facing a real and not a manufactured crisis fueled by silly politics. When it comes to mental illness and keeping our eye on the ball we all deserve better than we received these last few weeks. But, thankfully, mental health services at New Hampshire Hospital remain in good hands.

(John T. Broderick, Jr. is a former Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court.)

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