×

Council to Weigh D-H Mental Health Contract



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 23, 2016

New London — A controversial deal for Dartmouth-Hitchcock to supply psychiatrists and other professional employees at New Hampshire’s state-owned hospital for people with serious mental illness will be on the agenda when the state’s Executive Council meets today at Colby-Sawyer College in New London.

State Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers awarded the contract to D-H despite a letter signed by all five Council members saying they would “prefer to see a new bidding process” for the job of providing services at New Hampshire Hospital in Concord.

On Tuesday, Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, called for a delay in action on the contract until questions were addressed about a recent suicide by a just-released New Hampshire Hospital patient and about staffing levels at the hospital in the wake of the departure of 11 mental health professionals.

HHS officials could not be reached for comment late Tuesday. On Monday, Meyers told the Concord Monitor that seven professional employees had been brought in as replacements at the state hospital; three more were expected by the end of September and that the transition had “gone very well.”

Gatsas’ statement, by name, urged rejection of this contract by the two Council members who are seeking their party’s nomination for governor — Concord Democrat Chris Van Ostern and Newfields Republican Chris Sununu. Neither could be reached for comment late Tuesday.

Councilor Joe Kenney, R-Wakefield, said he was “still in a deliberative phase” but recently met with Alan Green, the head of the psychiatry department at D-H. Noting the state’s “long-standing relationship” with the Lebanon-based health system, Kenney said he intended to ask some tough questions but the relationship with D-H was one “that I think will continue.”

The original objections to the deal, which would tap D-H to provide services that for decades have come from Dartmouth College, were raised by New Hampshire Hospital psychiatrists concerned that they would lose accrued retirement benefits if D-H replaced the college as their employer.

They also bridled at being asked to commit to D-H without more information about the terms of employment being offered.

After an unsuccessful push for union recognition, some psychiatrists and advanced-practice nurses refused to sign letters of intent to work for D-H, and were released when the Dartmouth contract ended on June 30.

In early June, the Executive Council approved a four-month extension of the contract with Dartmouth. Dartmouth assigned its four-month deal to D-H. To meet staffing requirements at the state hospital, D-H shut down nine of 21 psychiatric beds at its flagship hospital in Lebanon and sent psychiatrists to Concord.

After approving the extension, the Executive Council recommended that bidding be reopened for provision of services for the balance of the three years sought by a February request for proposals.

Instead, Meyers has asked the Executive Council to approve the deal with D-H, the only bidder. That $36.6 million contract runs for 32 months, with the bulk of the expenditures, or about $31.7 million, allocated for acute psychiatric care at New Hampshire Hospital. The contract includes two options for the state to extend the arrangement for another three years.

The contract obligates D-H to supply 32 full-time professional staff at New Hampshire Hospital including a chief medical officer, associate medical director, 11 psychiatrists, four child and adolescent psychiatrists, a psychiatrist certified to work with seniors, two full-time physicians and six advanced practice psychiatric registered nurses.

Among the performance standards is a requirement that staffing shortfalls won’t “affect the number of NHH beds available and that NHH units will not stop admissions due to the lack of coverage” by D-H staff.

The contract was signed on Aug. 18 by Robert Greene, a D-H executive vice president, and on Aug. 19 by Katja Fox, an HHS director.

Rick Jurgens can be reached at rjurgens@vnews.com or 603-727-3229.