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Dartmouth-Hitchcock's Layoff Announcement Stirs Mistrust With State Officials

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center is responding to a firestorm of criticism over its announcement to lay off between 270 and 460 employees by the end of this year.

The hospital broke the news just two days after accepting a $35.5 million contract from the state. Some say Dartmouth-Hitchcock should have disclosed the layoffs before accepting the contract. 

On Wednesday, the Executive Council okayed a controversial contract for Dartmouth-Hitchcock to run clinical care at New Hampshire Hospital.

And two days later, Dartmouth-Hitchcock confirmed hundreds of upcoming layoffs.  Executive Councilor Joe Kenney points out companies only break news like this late on a Fridays for a reason.

"They try to drown out the news cycle," says Kenney.

Department of Health and Human Services  Commissioner Jeff Meyers says the news came as a complete surprise to him and Governor Hassan.

"Look, the timing of the announcement obviously is very concerning, and how they’ve gone about announcing these layoffs is obviously very concerning," says Meyers. "And as the governor and I have both said we’re very disappointed."

Political candidates expressed a little more than disappointment in Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

Executive Councilor and Republic candidate for Governor Chris Sununu voted for the contract last week, but he says he didn’t have the full picture.

"When the State of New Hampshire does business with an organization, we need to know that they’re trustworthy, they’re transparent, they’re being upfront with us about all the different things that could potentially impact this contract, or their business in other ways," says Sununu.  

Sununu’s Republican opponents in the primary for governor seized the moment to criticize Sununu for voting for the contract.

Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas called for the state to pull out of the contract with Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

State senator Jeannie Forrester  said executive councilor and democratic candidate for governor Colin Van Ostern didn’t do his homework before voting for the contract.

On the campaign trail Monday,  Van Ostern tried to turn the focus away from politics.

"I think what’s most important here is not politics, it’s patient care," said Van Ostern.

Still, Van Ostern didn’t respond to direct questions about whether the Executive Council was asleep at the wheel, or if Dartmouth-Hitchcock had lost credibility.

On Monday, Dartmouth-Hitchcock CEO Dr. James Weinstein said system-wide layoffs had no connection to clinical care at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. He said his hospital will fulfill the contract.

Chris Sununu says he wants the state to reopen the call for bids.

"I don’t care whether you’re a snow plow company or a health services provider, when doing business with the state, this is public dollars, there’s public transparency that needs to be adhered to," says Sununu.

For now, others on the Executive Council like Chris Pappas aren’t willing to pull out of the contract with Dartmouth-Hitchcock just yet.

"What we need to see is a commitment that Dartmouth is going to maintain the staffing levels in the contract that we just approved," says Pappas.

Meaning, wait and see if Dartmouth-Hitchcock can lay off hundreds of employees without affecting care at the state psychiatric hospital.

Either way, Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s poorly timed announcement will ensure questions remain about the hospital’s ability to fulfill its obligations.  

Before joining NHPR in August 2014, Jack was a freelance writer and radio reporter. His work aired on NPR, BBC, Marketplace and 99% Invisible, and he wrote for the Christian Science Monitor and Northern Woodlands.
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