Gov. Sununu ‘Confident’ That Staffing Dispute With Dartmouth-Hitchcock Will Be Resolved

  • Chris Sununu in Concord, N.H., in September 2016. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) ap — Jim Cole

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/15/2017 3:50:40 PM
Modified: 5/16/2017 2:18:42 PM

Lebanon — New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu on Monday said he is optimistic that the state can resolve a dispute with the Dartmouth-Hitchcock health system about staffing levels at the state-owned psychiatric hospital.

“I feel confident that we will find a viable solution and resolution,” Sununu said during an appearance on The Exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio. “They are a partner of ours, I hope they will stay a partner of ours, and we can keep moving forward together.”

Although the first-term Republican governor did not totally absolve D-H of blame — key state officials and the Lebanon-based health system differ on whether it was meeting the terms of a $36.6 million contract to provide psychiatric services at New Hampshire Hospital — Sununu’s tone was markedly different from earlier this month.

On May 3, he asked NHH CEO Robert MacLeod, a state employee, to resign. Sununu at the same time also called indications that D-H was understaffing NHH “deeply disturbing and troubling” and said the organization “at this point isn’t trustworthy.”

But in the radio interview on Monday, he heaped praise on D-H, which includes the state’s largest hospital and only academic medical center, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon.

“I think the quality of service that comes out of Dartmouth-Hitchcock is exceptional, it really is. So it’s not an issue of quality of service,” Sununu said. “I think they have amazing doctors there, I think they are a tremendous asset to the state, and we want to make sure that they continue being a partner with us, especially in the area of mental health.”

New Hampshire Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers formally said in a letter to D-H earlier this month that it had failed to provide 11 full-time equivalent general psychiatrists and a dedicated geropsychiatrist at NHH, as called for in the contract, and asked D-H to provide a plan to remedy the situation.

Michael Connolly, an attorney for Dartmouth-Hitchcock, responded in writing on May 5, asserting that D-H “has been fully transparent regarding the exact level of psychiatric staffing provided to NHH,” and that suggestions to the contrary were “categorically false and defamatory.”

D-H “often provided at least 11.0 psychiatric (full-time equivalencies) since the agreement commenced,” Connolly’s letter asserted. But D-H reports also indicate that it was not fully staffed at all times, and Sununu on Monday questioned whether the staffing standards were ever met in full.

“We pay every month for 11 psychiatrists over there, that’s what the contract requires. I don’t believe to date we’ve actually had 11 psychiatrists, and the problem we have is we are paying for them,” he told Exchange host Laura Knoy.

Asked for reaction to Sununu’s NHPR interview, D-H spokesman Josh McElveen declined to comment, an indication Dartmouth-Hitchcock also is eager to settle the dispute behind closed doors. (McElveen, a former political director and anchor at WMUR-TV, was hired earlier this year to help improve Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s image in southern New Hampshire, which has the largest population and where D-H wants to expand.)

Dartmouth-Hitchcock has not submitted a corrective action plan, as sought by Meyers, and Connolly’s letter had said the state’s actions — including critical statements that may have made it harder for D-H to hire staff — essentially excused D-H from “strict compliance” with the contract.

When a listener asked whether Sununu’s criticism of D-H’s trustworthiness had been unfair, he did not back down. But he also made clear he was interested in a resolution, not more legal wrangling.

“If you are doing business with the state of New Hampshire, you have to be forthright, upfront. You have to be communicators, and it starts with one-on-one interaction,” Sununu said.

“It isn’t about lawyering up on either side, or anything like that. You just have to get the right people in the room and work details out, and I think that’s where we are going,” the governor said.

John P. Gregg can be reached at or 603-727-3217.

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