By Dan Touhy
New Hampshire Union Leader
The Governor and Executive Council approved an independent review of staffing levels at the New Hampshire Hospital on Wednesday as part of a settlement agreement with Dartmouth-Hitchcock over a contract dispute.
The no-bid $85,000 contract with Joint Commission Resources will fund a review of the quality of care at the hospital from Nov. 1, 2016, to April 30, 2017.
The settlement between the state and “Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital” resolves state claims that the hospital did not provide staffing at levels required by the contract, which the hospital disputed.
The alleged non-compliance came up in early May, when the state maintained that Dartmouth-Hitchcock was in violation of the contract because it was shy by two psychiatrists at the New Hampshire Hospital.
The controversy led to the resignation of Robert MacLeod, the CEO of New Hampshire Hospital, and to Donald Shumway, a former state health department commissioner and past CEO of Crotched Mountain Foundation, being appointed on an interim basis.
The state receives a $75,000 credit from Dartmouth-Hitchcock, according to the settlement, which releases both parties from any legal claims in connection with the previous argument of compliance. The agreement states that neither the state nor Dartmouth-Hitchcock offers an admission of wrongdoing or liability.
A report is due in 120 days. The review will be “used solely and exclusively for the state’s internal purposes related to improving patient safety and quality, and is confidential and privileged,” according to the settlement.
Jeffrey Meyers, commissioner of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said Dartmouth-Hitchcock agreed to pay the cost of the review.
“This is a good exercise to go through,” he said during the Executive Council meeting Wednesday at Hampton Beach State Park.
Gov. Chris Sununu, R-Newfields, said the state has a good relationship with Dartmouth-Hitchcock, which provides quality care across New Hampshire and beyond. The settlement and $75,000 credit to the state reflected the discrepancies the state saw in staffing levels based on the three-year contract approved last year.
“Moving forward, again, there’s new leadership at New Hampshire Hospital, new leadership at Dartmouth-Hitchcock,” Sununu said.
According to the settlement agreement, the review will identify the most efficient allocation of psychiatric and medical resources, and the New Hampshire Hospital’s interim CEO will lead the review, with Dartmouth-Hitchcock participation. Shumway is to report to the state by Dec. 1, 2017, on any recommendations on allocation of psychiatric staffing resources.
There are no current changes in the contract for care at New Hampshire Hospital. Meyers said that his department would take a close look at the review’s findings before any possible recommended change in allocation of resources.
An exhibit in the 10-page settlement shows the state and Dartmouth-Hitchcock committing to their contractual relationship.
“Both the state and Dartmouth-Hitchcock are committed to providing the best possible care for our family members, friends, and neighbors suffering from mental illness and requiring treatment at New Hampshire Hospital. As the State seeks to address the crisis caused by a shortage of acute care beds and community resources, both I and the Governor are grateful that Dartmouth-Hitchcock — the State’s only academic medical center — provides its services across a range of service areas, including NHH,” the agreement reads. “The State recognizes and values Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s crucial role in improving the health of our citizens and we look forward to working together to ensure that patients at NHH receive nothing less than the quality care they deserve.”