Friction over an employment transition at New Hampshire Hospital – the state’s only acute psychiatric care facility – started with the expiration of a contract with Dartmouth College and the state at the end of June.
The college’s Geisel School of Medicine had a five-year contract with the state to staff New Hampshire Hospital in Concord with acute psychiatric care professionals. Psychiatrists and nurses providing specialized psychiatric care at the 158-bed hospital do so through a contract with the state, said Jake Leon, director of communications for the state Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the hospital. The rest of the staff at the hospital are state employees.
In June, Dartmouth-Hitchcock health system, a separate entity from the college, was awarded a four-month extension to staff the hospital and make sure psychiatric care services continue through October.
“It is a short-term extension to make sure that services continued for a reasonable amount of time to allow us to complete the current procurement process or determine whether we need to reprocure for these services,” Leon said.
Dartmouth-Hitchcock said it extended job offers to nearly 180 in Dartmouth College’s Department of Psychiatry – including 19 providers at New Hampshire Hospital. “A smaller group of those providers chose not to accept Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s offer of employment; when it was made clear to Dartmouth-Hitchcock that those providers had no interest in working for Dartmouth-Hitchcock and were contemplating starting their own private practice group, Dartmouth-Hitchcock withdrew the offers of employment,” said Rick Adams, a spokesman for the health system in an email.
What has been termed in the media as a “labor dispute” between Dartmouth-Hitchcock and about 10 former employees of the hospital is not, said Adams, adding that “a number of allegations have been made in the mainstream media by the 10 providers who chose not to accept Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s offers of employment.”
However, Matthew Davis, M.D., who was a psychiatrist at the hospital for four years before being “laid off” at the end of June, said a small group of employees – psychiatrists and nurse practitioners – formed a collective bargaining unit and hired legal representation because Dartmouth College and Dartmouth-Hitchcock would not provide any specifics on employment terms during talk about the transition.
The group was hoping to continue at the hospital under the same terms of employment offered by the college, Davis said. No salary or salary range was provided to employees until two months before the transition. Employment offers from Dartmouth-Hitchcock would have kept employees at the same salary, but other benefits like retirement contributions and time off were considerably reduced, Davis said.
Dartmouth-Hitchcock was unwilling to negotiate, he said. “Our focus was only ever to stay at New Hampshire Hospital and provide high-quality patient care at the best of our abilities. We were heartbroken that that was unable to happen through no choice or actions on our behalf,” he said.
Adams said six psychiatrists and four nurse practitioners who were employed by Dartmouth College left New Hampshire Hospital at the end of June.
“On July 1, Dartmouth-Hitchcock officially assumed responsibility for care at New Hampshire Hospital,” he said. “The changeover went uneventfully, and the hospital opened as usual on July 1 with Dartmouth-Hitchcock providers. Additionally, a 10-bed crisis unit that had been scheduled to open last summer finally opened on July 5, with staffing from Dartmouth-Hitchcock.”
The state would not comment on the employment issue, Leon said. He said the department “is pleased that services have continued uninterrupted” and that the transition appears to have been orderly.
“It is absolutely critical that the state through New Hampshire Hospital be able to provide these services and we are pleased to be in a position to do so,” he said.