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Andy Harvard, Part Two: Seeking Support

Valley News Columnist
Published: 6/9/2016 4:17:05 PM
Modified: 6/9/2016 4:19:22 PM
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published Nov. 23, 2015. Click here for Part One.

The one-bedroom apartment on the top floor of Wheelock Terrace in Hanover looks out over a stand of tall pines. Walking paths wind around the well-appointed grounds.

“This is a good place for me,” said Andy Harvard, once a world-class mountaineer with four Mount Everest expeditions on his resume.

Wheelock Terrace is a modern assisted-living facility on Buck Road, not far from downtown Hanover. In September, two months after his 66th birthday, Harvard moved in.

His wife, Kathy, and their 15-year-old twins, Nick and Allegra, live nearby in the four-bedroom Colonial that the family built in 2007 — just before their lives turned upside down.

In the summer of 2008, Harvard was fired as Dartmouth College’s director of outdoor programs.

Harvard’s departure stunned students and other members of the century-old Dartmouth Outing Club, which he was hired in 2004 to oversee for his alma mater.

For most of the four years that he worked at the college, Harvard was viewed as the person most responsible for pumping new life into the DOC, the oldest collegiate outdoor club in the country.

By the end of his tenure, however, all was not well. Harvard, a 1971 Dartmouth graduate, secretly struggled to carry out the day-to-day administrative duties.

He missed deadlines for submitting budgets and written reports. He didn’t return his bosses’ emails. He’d disappear from his office for hours, leaving his staff and superiors wondering where he had gone.

What was wrong?

Nine months after his firing, following a battery of neuropsychological tests at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, the answer became clear: Harvard was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

He was 59.

An estimated 200,000 Americans — 5 percent of all Alzheimer’s cases — suffer from the uncommon form of dementia that strikes people younger than 65, according to the Mayo Clinic, a national leader in Alzheimer’s treatment and research.

Before the early-onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis came in April 2009, Harvard had enlisted Norwich attorney Geoffrey Vitt to work out a severance package with the college.

Dartmouth had never publicly acknowledged Harvard’s firing. The college made it seem as though he voluntarily stepped down from his $96,000-a-year job.

The Harvards were forced to go along, or risk losing the severance package the college was dangling in exchange for their silence.

But after receiving the Alzheimer’s diagnosis, the Harvards and Vitt argued that a proposed severance package of $100,000 or so was no longer adequate, according to documents they recently shared with me.

Vitt asked the college to treat Harvard as if the Alzheimer’s had been diagnosed while he still worked at Dartmouth. If so, the college’s short- and long-term disability plan would have kicked in. Under the benefits plan, Harvard would have been entitled to much more than Dartmouth was offering in severance pay.

In November 2009, with the two sides still far apart on an agreement, Dartmouth began to play hardball.

Kevin O’Leary, the college’s associate general counsel, informed Vitt that Dartmouth would discontinue the family’s health insurance benefits at the end of 2009.

Settlement talks dragged on for more than two years. In a March 1, 2012, letter to O’Leary, Vitt continued to press Harvard’s case.

“In view of Andy’s long and distinguished career, especially his long association with Dartmouth’s outdoor activities, it seems especially fitting that Andy would receive disability payments,” Vitt wrote. “I do not want to seem trite, but I would say this is a case where the college should do the right thing.”

Two months later, Dartmouth responded.

Wrote O’Leary, “While there was an extended period of discussion regarding his performance problems prior to his actual termination, which I believe occurred before you (Vitt) were involved, those discussions probably should have alerted him, his family and his supporters to the possibility of a medical problem.

“However, the issue was not raised prior to his termination and terminated employees are not eligible for the disability benefits.”

The bottom line: Dartmouth was denying Harvard’s request for disability benefits that, paid out over six years and ending when he turned 65, would have totaled $204,290.

The college, however, was still willing to “do the right thing,” O’Leary wrote. Or at least the right thing by its definition.

Dartmouth college offered to write Harvard a check for $64,000.

Why not the full $96,000, which would have equaled one year of his pay?

The college claimed that it had already made an “overpayment” of $32,000 to Harvard following his termination. (Last week, Diana Lawrence, the college’s director of media relations, told me the overpayment was the “result of a processing error.”)

In a May 1, 2012, letter to Vitt, O’Leary wrote, “As there are no legal claims that Andy can make, we are hopeful that his family and supporters will see offering a payment that is close to half of the maximum ($204,290) Andy would have received had he applied for (disability benefits) prior to his termination as a generous offer.”

The fight wasn’t quite over.

Two DHMC physicians involved in Harvard’s care attempted to educate Dartmouth officials about the effects of early-onset Alzheimer’s.

In November 2012, neurologist James Bernat and geriatric psychiatrist Robert Santulli, who specializes in Alzheimer’s disease, wrote separate letters to the college’s top in-house attorneys, O’Leary and his boss, Robert Donin.

Santulli, who began seeing Harvard in July 2010, wrote that it’s “well known that Alzheimer’s disease symptoms begin very insidiously, generally years before a formal, accurate diagnosis is made. Therefore, it would be extremely likely that Mr. Harvard began to experience significant symptoms of illness while still employed at Dartmouth.

“Although the cause of these would not be uncovered for years, it is extremely likely that these symptoms would significantly and adversely affect his work performance. The most likely symptoms that would have impacted his work, based on my initial evaluations of him and his neuropsychological testing, would be slowness of thought and speech, poor organizational abilities, impairment of judgment, impaired short-term memory, and difficulty managing previously simple tasks.”

Santulli pointed out that Alzheimer’s has no cure.

Bernat started treating Harvard in October 2010.

“In my opinion, his Alzheimer’s disease was present at the time he was diagnosed with depression and it was responsible for his behavioral changes,” Bernat wrote.

“From my examinations of Mr. Harvard, it is clear for me to understand in retrospect how his current obvious cognitive and language impairments were present in a more subtle form at an earlier stage of his illness, and they interfered with his ability to perform his work as a director of outdoor programs. I believe it was the cognitive and language impairments from Alzheimer’s disease that led to his deficient job performance.”

Harvard’s friends in the Dartmouth Outing Club, the few who were privy to his medical condition, also pleaded with the college.

Jed Williamson, of Hanover, met Harvard in 1979 when they both served on the board of directors for the American Alpine Club. Williamson, president of Sterling College in Craftsbury, Vt., from 1996 to 2006, was part of a Harvard-led expedition to Everest in 1986.

In March 2013, Williamson delivered a letter to Dartmouth interim president Carol Folt. Attached were copies of the letters that Bernat and Santulli had sent to the college’s attorneys four months earlier.

“The Harvard family has gone through considerable stress in the nearly five years since this all began,” Williamson wrote. “It is my hope, and that of many alumni and friends, that Dartmouth College will show that it is an institution that takes care of its family.”

Within hours of dropping off the letter at Folt’s office, Williamson heard from O’Leary. (They had worked together on the DOC safety review board.)

Settlement discussions resumed. Harvard’s medical records were turned over to the college.

In December 2013, Vitt presented the college with the amount that Harvard was seeking in a settlement package.

The total: $296,451.

The bulk of the money was disability pay. (Dartmouth employees who become disabled are entitled to half of their annual salary until reaching retirement age.) It also included the family’s out-of-pocket medical expenses and contributions to Harvard’s retirement account.

“Dartmouth’s Long Term Disability policy was designed for employees just like Andy who, through no fault of their own, are disabled by a disease that progressively takes away their ability to work,” Vitt wrote. “Our hope is to bring this event to a dignified close by providing Andy and his family with a settlement that matches what would have been provided through Dartmouth’s Long Term Disability policy.”

The college rejected the proposal.

In May 2014, Williamson wrote to Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon to make sure he was aware that the college had, in effect, told Harvard to get lost.

“This does not demonstrate what many interested alumni and friends of Dartmouth had hoped would be a clear indication that the institution takes care of its own — employees and alumni, especially when the evidence clearly shows that restitution is warranted,” Williamson wrote.

Williamson said he never hard back from Hanlon.

A couple of weeks ago, I called Hanlon’s office. The woman who answered said she’d been alerted by the Dartmouth Office of Communications that I might be calling. She said that she was under orders not to schedule a time for me to talk with the president.

I wasn’t surprised. Dartmouth’s website lists 21 employees in the Office of Communications. That’s a lot of flaks to run interference for Hanlon and other Dartmouth administrators who don’t wish to answer questions.

I also contacted O’Leary, who, I realize, is just following the instructions of Hanlon and other top level administrators.

In an email, O’Leary told me that he had worked several years to “address the financial effect the termination of Andy’s employment had on him and his family, including offering to provide significant financial support on more than one occasion. Had those offers been accepted, some of Andy’s financial concerns could have been addressed.

“Ultimately, Andy did not receive the financial support which could have been helpful because he or the people advising him decided that what Dartmouth was offering was not enough.”

I understand that Dartmouth perhaps doesn’t want to set a precedent. I’d say, however, that it would be a good precedent. Loyalty is a two-way street. Dartmouth should take care of its own, especially because it’s an institution where money is no object.

As Vitt suggested, the college could have hired Harvard back for a day or so. By putting him on the payroll, he could have become eligible for disability benefits.

Lawrence, the college’s spokeswoman, told me Dartmouth is self-insured for long-term disability, but she wouldn’t disclose the number of employees currently receiving benefits.

The photos, all in frames, are arranged on the dining room table of Harvard’s apartment at Wheelock Terrace. There’s a portrait of Kathy and another of the couple’s three children, in their pre-teen days, holding their violins.

I picked up a third picture from the table. It was of Andy in the early 1970s, not long after he had graduated from Dartmouth. He had long, thick hair. A yellow chain saw was slung over his shoulder.

For a few years after Dartmouth, Harvard stuck around the area, picking up a logging job with the U.S. Forest Service.

In New Hampshire? I asked.

Harvard paused for a moment. He understood the question and he had an answer. But his words come slowly these days.

“No,” he said. “It was the other side.”

He glanced at Kathy for help.

“Vermont,” she said.

Finishing a sentence or a thought sometimes requires more than Harvard can muster.

Physically, he doesn’t seem to have changed much from the photos that Dartmouth sent out in the early 2000s to promote his work with the DOC. (“Harvard Leads the Way,” proclaimed a headline in the January/February 2005 issue of Dartmouth Alumni Magazine.)

His white hair and beard are still thick. His broad shoulders and barrel chest are still apparent under a checked flannel Barbour shirt.

Andy and Kathy go for frequent walks on the paths around Wheelock Terrace and other favorite spots. She regularly makes the 10-minute drive for morning coffee at his apartment before heading off to work. (She’s the marketing and sales director for InnerAsia Rugs, a business partner of furniture maker Pompanoosuc Mills in Thetford.)

Alone in his apartment, Andy listens to books and lectures on tape that Kathy orders from the Library of Congress. Henry Kissinger and Franklin Delano Roosevelt are among his current selections.

Kathy often returns in the evening. Sitting on the living room couch, they listen to NPR news shows.

“Andy’s always been interested in history and current events,” Kathy said. “That hasn’t changed.”

She already has a plan in place for Andy to spend Thanksgiving Day with family and friends at their house in Hanover. The couple’s oldest son, James, will be home from college.

“Andy is still part of everyone’s lives,” Kathy said. “We’re all still learning what we need to do to keep the family together so it works for everyone.”

Looking back, Kathy said that part of her wishes she and Andy had told his story publicly earlier.

But Andy was reluctant to tell the world about his Alzheimer’s. “He’s always been self-sufficient,” Kathy said. “He wanted to maintain his dignity and pride. I had to honor his wishes. It’s his life.

“There’s a huge stigma with this disease. People still think Alzheimer’s is an old person’s disease.”

I’m under no illusion that bringing Harvard’s story to light now will change the way that Dartmouth conducts business. Or that the college will suddenly do right by Harvard and his family.

Still, people should know, and then they can make up their own minds.

The difference between what the Harvards have asked for and what Dartmouth was willing to give them?

Roughly $200,000.

That’s not a lot for an Ivy League institution with a $4 billion endowment.

But it could make a big difference for the Harvards, who have college tuition, medical, and assisted-living bills to contend with. (Health insurance alone is about $15,000 a year.)

“The money (sought in settlement talks with Dartmouth) is important, of course,” Kathy told me. “But it’s also important that the college recognize Andy’s Alzeheimer’s and show him the respect and support of a disabled employee.”

Although a lawsuit against the college remains a possibility, it would be a long shot. Federal disability laws are designed to protect current employees, not former workers, such as Harvard.

O’Leary, the Dartmouth attorney, has stated in his exchanges with Vitt that the college believes it’s on firm legal ground.

But does Dartmouth have a moral obligation?

I emailed the question to O’Leary a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t hear back.

I asked Williamson, who climbed Everest with Harvard 30 years ago, the same question.

Williamson framed his answer in mountaineering terms: “In field situations, you take care of your people. You do everything possible to bring them home with you, dead or alive.

“Dartmouth was given all this new information on Andy and his Alzheimer’s after they offed him. And they still chose to leave him behind.”

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.




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