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Executive Council will keep N.H. Hospital contract with Dartmouth-Hitchcock

  • New Hampshire Hospital in Concord as seen in July. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 9/21/2016 4:05:56 PM

Amid recent shake-ups at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the Executive Council showed no signs of rescinding its $36.5 million contract with the health system to staff New Hampshire Hospital, even after one councilor suggested it do so.

Councilor Chris Sununu of Newfields, who is also the Republican gubernatorial nominee, said he had serious concerns about the hospital’s trustworthiness after state officials found out about Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s layoffs from the newspaper. News of the layoffs broke just two days after the council approved its contract with Dartmouth-Hitchcock to staff the state psychiatric hospital.

“I still believe we need to extend their contract and rebid it,” Sununu said. “I don’t believe we have done our job as a state to make sure we have choices.”

At a Wednesday morning meeting, Sununu, his fellow councilors and Gov. Maggie Hassan all questioned Dartmouth-Hitchcock CEO Dr. James Weinstein about what he knew about the layoffs – and when.

“There’s nothing we’ve hidden from you,” Weinstein said. “There was no intent in deceiving this committee.”

But when pressed for details about Dartmouth-Hitchcock layoffs, Weinstein admitted he didn’t have many. He repeatedly assured councilors New Hampshire Hospital would not be affected, and said he accepted blame for the economic shortfall that precipitated the layoffs.

“We haven’t finished planning,” Weinstein said. “I’ll tell you more when I know, but it wasn’t related to this contract.”

The governor and Executive Council spent much of their time talking to Weinstein and state health officials about staffing levels at New Hampshire Hospital, which is in the midst of its own restructuring.

By staffing New Hampshire Hospital for the next three years, Dartmouth-Hitchcock took over an agreement long held by Dartmouth College.

The transition has proved controversial, sparking a labor dispute that caused nearly a dozen New Hampshire Hospital psychiatric staff to depart in July.

A few days ago, the hospital’s chief medical officer, Dr. David Folks, announced he will leave in January. Officials said they are starting the search for his replacement.

There are currently 24 psychiatrists and nurses caring for patients at the hospital. Dartmouth-Hitchcock officials said they have hired additional medical staff and will have 34 people working at the hospital by Nov. 1.

Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern, who is also the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, stopped short of calling for a rebid contract, but said “there has been some breakdown in trust and commitment” between the state and Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

“I think this contract provides an important way to improve care, but I will say that if they are not meeting it today or in the future, we need to be prepared with alternatives,” he said.

Sununu ultimately did not make a motion to rescind the state’s contract with Dartmouth-Hitchcock, criticizing Gov. Maggie Hassan and Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeff Meyers for their unwillingness to do so.

“I keep calling for it,” he said. “They don’t want to do it.” Sununu reiterated his belief that the state’s bidding process doesn’t allow for enough choice and said he would like to see that changed.

Meyers told Sununu that while he was also concerned about the lack of communication from Dartmouth-Hitchcock in recent weeks, he did not believe starting from scratch was the way to go.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock was the only bidder that responded to the original state request for proposals to staff New Hampshire Hospital.

“I opened this up, and we still only got one bidder,” Meyers said, adding that his department reached out to other hospitals and health systems in neighboring states. “We made an effort to publicize this. If we put this out again today, I question whether there would be more than one bidder.”

Riverbend Community Mental Health CEO Peter Evers said he met with state officials Wednesday and was assured there are no empty beds at New Hampshire Hospital.

“I absolutely take them at their word that they have adequate staff,” he said.

However, Evers said Concord Hospital is still facing a backlog of patients waiting to get into the psychiatric facility. With no place to go, patients are often stuck waiting in the emergency department for days or weeks.

The waiting area has six beds and is called the Yellow Pod. Over the past few days, its been holding 13 to 15 people from across the state.

Half of the patients who wind up at New Hampshire Hospital come through the Yellow Pod, Evers said. When beds there fill up, some patients are left waiting in the hallway.

“All I know is that those people are in the worst possible place they could be as they wait for treatment,” Evers said. “We just need to move people quicker. They’re not getting the right care they need as citizens of this state.”

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