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Jim Kenyon: When It Comes to D-H Layoffs, Who You Gonna Call?

  • Valley News columnist Jim Kenyon in West Lebanon, N.H., on September 15, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

Published: 10/23/2016 12:00:24 AM
Modified: 10/24/2016 11:48:00 AM

Forrest Boucher had just stepped out of the shower on Tuesday when his cellphone rang at 7:09 a.m. Since he wasn’t due at work until 11 that night, Boucher didn’t expect it would be his boss calling. “Can you come in for a meeting at 8:30?” asked Jeff Robbins, a supervisor in Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s engineering services department.

Robbins didn’t say much else, but Boucher had a pretty good idea what that morning’s meeting was about. On Monday, Dartmouth-Hitchcock had announced it was laying off 84 employees from its flagship medical center in Lebanon and other clinics around New Hampshire.

Many of D-H’s 9,200 workers had been on edge since CEO James Weinstein announced last month that up to 460 employees might have to be laid off to help dig D-H out of a deepening financial hole.

But Boucher, 30, tried not to worry. “I’ve been here six years,” he told himself. “I should be fine.”

Then came Tuesday’s early morning phone call.

He dressed quickly, kissed his wife, Erin, a licensed nursing assistant who also works DHMC’s third shift, and headed out to his pickup for the 36-mile drive to Lebanon from their home in North Haverhill.

At DHMC, he was ushered into a conference room where three administrators and a member of the “employee relations team,” were waiting.

Boucher was handed a letter. “We regret to inform you that as part of the D-H workforce restructuring efforts your position as (a full-time) mechanic has been selected for elimination,” the letter stated.

Selected?

They made it sound as though he had won a raffle.

I couldn’t help but notice the signature at the bottom of the one-page letter. John Malanowski, executive vice president and chief human resources officer, came to D-H from the corporate world in 2014. In Malanowski’s first year at D-H, he received a compensation package that totaled $501,209, according to the institution’s federal tax filings.

Malanowski was among 23 D-H administrators and physicians who made a half-million dollars or more in 2014. Weinstein topped the list with a package worth nearly $1.5 million.

At a health care giant such as D-H, with an annual budget of $1.6 billion, I’m not sure axing a mechanic earning $39,000 a year will improve the bottom line all that much.

But that’s big business for you.

D-H’s executives created the financial mess that led to a $23 million quarterly operating deficit, and rank-and-file workers pay the price. Then, when the layoffs aren’t as massive as projected, D-H’s blue-collar workers are supposed to be grateful that they haven’t been selected.

Sitting at his kitchen table Wednesday, Boucher didn’t come across as bitter. Bewildered was more like it.

“I didn’t want anyone to lose their job, but I didn’t see this happening to me,” he said. “I thought I had enough seniority.”

Boucher started at DHMC as a security officer in 2010. It wasn’t his first choice, but he couldn’t be picky.

Boucher didn’t go to college. After graduating from Woodsville High, he joined the Marines. A year of combat duty in Iraq took a lasting toll.

“A couple of times a week, I get these wicked migraines,” he told me.

Two concussions suffered in roadside bomb blasts will do that. After reviewing his medical records, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs ruled last year that Boucher was partially disabled due to a traumatic brain injury.

But it didn’t stop him from doing his job at DHMC. When a migraine came on, he’d give himself an injection of sumatriptan. After sitting for 10 minutes in a quiet, dark room, the migraine would usually go away.

Other than the headaches, Boucher had few complaints with how things were going. Shortly after returning home from the Marines, he ran into Erin, who was two years ahead of him in high school, at the North Haverhill Fair.

They began dating and eventually became a couple. With two DHMC paychecks, they were slowly building a comfortable life.

They bought a two-bedroom log home with mountain views, across from a cornfield. They were married last month, but put off a honeymoon to save up for a trip to Alaska that they’ve dreamed about.

In June, Boucher seized an opportunity to move into DHMC’s engineering services department, where he could put his mechanical skills to use, fixing everything from heating systems to electric beds.

The job came with a $3-an-hour raise, bumping him to nearly $19. “I loved the job, and it was a decent living,” he said.

During his meeting on Tuesday, Boucher said he wasn’t given an explanation about how he’d been “selected” for D-H’s downsizing.

I asked Roddy Young, D-H’s vice president of communications and marketing, about the process. Young said that for confidentiality reasons, he couldn’t discuss individual employees. D-H is assisting those who have been affected in a variety of ways and encouraging them to apply for open DHMC positions as they come up, he said.

Workers who were laid off last week will remain on D-H’s payroll until Dec. 16, Young said. (Young’s compensation package in 2014, by the way, totaled $347,030.)

After the two months are up, Boucher “may be offered severance benefits,” according to the letter he received.

“He came home and started working on his resume,” Erin said. “Forrest is a go-getter. I know he’ll get a job.”

He’s already put in a bunch of applications, and has his eyes on a building maintenance position that Dartmouth College was advertising.

With a mortgage and a truck loan to pay, he’s waiting for a phone call quite different from the one that came Tuesday — one that announces a different kind of selection.

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




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