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Jim Kenyon: Housekeeping job gets messy at DHMC

  • Valley News columnist Jim Kenyon in West Lebanon, N.H., on Jan. 28, 2019. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Columnist
Published: 2/23/2019 10:13:19 PM
Modified: 2/23/2019 10:13:20 PM

Four plastic prescription bottles sit empty on Sophia Green’s kitchen table in her Lebanon apartment. Green no longer has the money — or health insurance — for the medications she needs to help control her depression, anxiety and a bad stomach.

Green is a 40-year-old immigrant from Jamaica who worked as a housekeeper at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center where she mopped floors, scrubbed toilets and changed linens in patients’ rooms until the health care giant decided she was more trouble than she was worth.

Her story shows just how far Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s tentacles reach.

Green, a tall, stout woman with short cropped hair, came to the U.S. in 2011 under the federal H-2B program that allows employers to bring in foreign nationals to work hard-to-fill nonagricultural jobs.

While employed as a housekeeper at a hotel in Maine, she met a man with ties to the Upper Valley. They married and moved to Lebanon, but the relationship “didn’t end well,” she said.

In November 2013, Green was hired for an $11-an-hour housekeeping position at DHMC. She didn’t have a car, but she caught rides with a friend who also worked the second shift. In her first performance evaluation, Green’s boss said she was progressing at or above expectations.

“Sophia is very willing to provide assistance to patients, visitors and co-workers,” the supervisor wrote. “She is dependable and has a fairly good attendance record.”

In 2015, Green moved to Florida, where she had family, including her two teenage daughters who had come from Jamaica to live with her. But after working for a year at a Florida nursing home, Green wanted a “safer place” to raise her daughters. (Her oldest daughter was struggling with mental illness.)

She returned to Lebanon, getting her job back at DHMC, but with different bosses. Her co-workers included two other Jamaican women. Green claims her new bosses had different rules for the three of them than other members of the housekeeping staff.

The Jamaican women were on break one night on an upper floor of the hospital when a supervisor approached. “Is this your hiding spot?” Green recalls him asking them.

“They treated us like we were nobody,” Green told me. “We knew we were being treated differently, but we were afraid to talk about it because we were afraid of losing our jobs.”

Green had a lot going on in her life. Along with her oldest daughter’s mental illness, Green was battling bouts of depression and anxiety. Emotions that she had bottled up for years had surfaced.

When growing up on the north coast of Jamaica, Green told me, she was raped at gunpoint by two men when she was 12. She quit school after ninth grade.

Coming to the U.S. (she became a citizen last year) was a chance to start over. “I have been fighting so hard to make something of myself,” she said.

But with her health declining, Green started missing a day here and there from work. According to her DHMC employment records, which she shared with me, Green had 13 “unplanned absences” of one to three consecutive days in a 10-month period. (Hospital policy allows six “occurrences” of missing one day or more in 12 months before an employee can face disciplinary action.)

For some of the absences, Green got a note from her doctor. That didn’t seem to matter. In October 2017, Green was given a choice: quit or be fired. She resigned.

She took a job with a private cleaning company, which assigned her to a hotel in Hartford. Green was paid $4.50 for each room she cleaned. On a good day, she cleaned 30 rooms.

She continued looking for a job that paid better — she was making nearly $13 an hour when she left DHMC — and offered health insurance benefits. Her youngest daughter now is an honor roll student at Lebanon High School. (Her oldest has returned to Jamaica.)

Early last year, Green applied for a housekeeping position at Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital in Lebanon. The interview went well, she said. But when she didn’t hear back, she emailed Brenda Howard, APD’s “talent manager.” Howard replied that she had spoken with DHMC’s employee relations department. “I was told you were terminated due to absenteeism and currently on a no rehire status,” Howard wrote.

APD is an affiliate of Dartmouth-Hitchcock, the umbrella organization of which DHMC is the flagship hospital. For a small hospital such as APD, what D-H says is what goes.

Green took her case to the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights, which agreed to investigate her charge accusing DHMC of discrimination. Last summer, the medical center brought in the Concord law firm Sulloway and Hollis to dispute Green’s charge.

In an Aug. 13 letter to the commission, attorney William Pandolph argued that Green’s “claims are barred because she resigned.”

DHMC seems to want it both ways: It told APD that Green was fired, but informed the Human Rights Commission that she had resigned.

I asked DHMC and APD about the case, but spokesmen for both hospitals declined to talk with me.

In Pandolph’s letter to the commission, DHMC denied that Green’s “work environment included favoritism” or that she was subject to “constant threats of termination” from her manager.

Green isn’t sure where her complaint stands. An attorney with the commission told me she could neither confirm nor deny that an investigation was underway.

Green is not working at the moment. She’s emptied her 401(k). She’s nearly a month behind on her $950-a-month rent. She worries that her doctors at DHMC will be ordered to stop treating her because she’s gone public with her story.

“(DHMC) broke me,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like giving up.”

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




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