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Jim Kenyon: More on DHMC’s ‘Culture of Caring’

  • Barbara Teeter takes her wash down at her home in Lebanon, N.H., on Nov. 10, 2016. Teeter worked at DHMC for 47 years she was laid off in October. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Steve and Barbara Teeter at their home in Lebanon, N.H., on Nov. 10, 2016. Teeter worked at DHMC for 47 years she was laid off in October. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Published: 11/13/2016 12:47:29 AM
Modified: 11/15/2016 10:53:26 AM

Barbara Teeter was such a fixture at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s general internal medicine clinic over the years that some patients made a point of asking for her at the start of their doctor’s visit. They wanted Barbie, as colleagues called her, to be the one who checked their blood pressure, measured their heart rate and took their temperature.

“Barbie is an incredible human being — her spirit always enlivens the clinic and our patients are always better cared for with her being around,” physician Shawn Shah wrote in April when nominating Teeter for a top nursing award. “She is not only an incredible colleague with her years of experience, but also a great patient advocate. She certainly embodies the spirit and character of DHMC’s culture of caring.”

Teeter, an LNA, or licensed nursing assistant, with 47 years of service at the medical center, is an “outstanding role model,” another doc wrote.

The 20 or so emails from doctors, nurses and other DHMC employees on Teeter’s behalf proved persuasive. In June, she was honored as the medical center’s LNA of the Year.

But in DHMC’s corporate culture, it’s not what you did yesterday, or for the previous 47 years, that matters. When the medical center must tighten the belt on its $1.6 billion annual budget, who better to squeeze than a $20-an-hour nursing assistant?

In mid-October, four months after receiving her award, Teeter got a phone call at home from her boss. DHMC management had deemed Teeter expendable.

“After 47 years, it ended with a phone call,” said Teeter, who lives in Lebanon. “That’s what hurts the most.”

Teeter was among 84 Dartmouth-Hitchcock employees who lost their jobs last month in layoffs at its flagship medical center in Lebanon and other clinics around New Hampshire.

DHMC doesn’t like to use the “L” word. “Workforce restructuring” is the preferred term.

Or put another way: This is what happens to rank-and-file employees when highly paid hospital execs create a financial mess and are looking to save a few bucks.

After losing $23 million during the last quarter of the most recent fiscal year, heads needed to roll. Better to give the heave-ho to workers on the front lines than take it out on a $500,000-a-year executive vice president.

Deborah Kimbell, an adviser to CEO Jim Weinstein, told me that management hasn’t been immune from D-H’s restructuring effort. “We have eliminated five senior leadership positions over the past several months,” she said.

Still, many of the guys — and they tend to be men — at the top seem to be doing just fine. After all, Weinstein, the spine surgeon masquerading as a $1.5-million-a-year hospital prez, can’t be expected to share the key to the executive washroom with just anyone.

Teeter was easy prey. She was down to working part-time when she went on short-term disability in July while dealing with back and knee problems.

“If they hadn’t let me go, I’d be back at work now,” she told me.

Teeter, who turns 70 in January, planned to retire in the next year or so, but was looking forward to a final round, which would give her a chance to see her longtime patients and play mother to the clinic’s latest batch of residents, the doctors in training.

As Danette Flint, who finished up her internal medicine residency this year, wrote in her email nominating Teeter for the LNA of the Year Award,

“I have always felt like Barbie pays attention to me, appreciates me and respects me. She stands out as the stable ‘center’ of the nursing station, fostering a sense of community among the staff.”

As it turns out, Teeter wasn’t the only LNA in the general internal medicine clinic to receive her walking papers.

Donna Wing had worked with Teeter for the last nine years. In September, she informed DHMC’s human resources department of her plans to retire April 1. Wing, 68, was trying to time her departure to coincide with her husband’s retirement, so they could begin collecting Social Security and Medicare together.

On Oct. 17, the day the layoffs were announced, Wing started work at 7:30 a.m. She spent the day checking patients’ vital signs and lending docs a hand where needed.

At some point in the day, a higher-up in the clinic told Wing to attend a 4 p.m. meeting with her supervisor. Although news of the layoffs was spreading throughout the medical center, Wing figured she was safe. “They knew I was retiring in less than five months,” said Wing, who lives in Bradford, Vt.

She called the human resources department to remind them of her retirement plans. You still need to go to the meeting, she was told.

Not a good omen. Before leaving for the meeting, Wing collected her belongings from her locker. She sensed she wouldn’t be coming back.

And she was right. Her job had been “selected for elimination.”

Why wait until the end of the day to break the bad news?

“We were short of staff, so they let me work my shift before telling me,” Wing said.

I asked Kimbell about how Teeter and Wing ended up on the layoff list. Although she couldn’t discuss personnel matters, Kimbell reminded me that “affected employees” are being paid through mid-December and some may be eligible for additional severance benefits.

They’re also being encouraged to apply for other D-H jobs that open up. But neither Teeter nor Wing seemed that interested when I mentioned it.

When I called her on Friday, Teeter was busy at her part-time job — cleaning house for a retired doctor. I’d heard that her former co-workers were planning a gathering in her honor at a Lebanon restaurant this week.

A proper, well-deserved send-off. Sure beats a phone call.

Correction

Barbara Teeter was laid off in October from her job as a licensed nursing assistant at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. An earlier version of the photo captions accompanying this column named an incorrect month.




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