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  • Staff Photo by GRANT MORRIS

    Facebook - Grant Morris of the Nashua Telegraph

    Southern New Hampshire Medical Center's Behavioral Health Services department.
  • Staff Photo by GRANT MORRIS

    Facebook - Grant Morris of the Nashua Telegraph

    Southern New Hampshire Medical Center's Behavioral Health Services
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Facebook Don Himsel at The Telegraph

    EMTs, some from Rockingham Ambulance, tour CarePlus Ambulance in Merrimack Thursday, August 18, 2011.
Thursday, September 1, 2011

Budget cuts will have far-reaching impact on state’s hospitals

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is another in a series of stories examining the consequences of state budget cuts on area people and programs.

Hospitals across New Hampshire – and certainly hospital staffing – have been wounded by cuts to the state budget that control how medical centers are reimbursed for some services.

Cuts have meant a reduction of programs and services while driving up New Hampshire’s unemployment figures.

The state budget, which took effect July 1, included a cut in Medicaid reimbursement totaling more than $250 million over the next two years.

Several hospitals in the state, including Southern New Hampshire Medical Center and St. Joseph Hospital in Nashua, announced layoffs to cope with the dramatic cut in state aid to hospitals.

Southern New Hampshire Medical Center will lay off up to 6 percent of its work force and shut a unit that has 60 percent of the city’s beds for inpatient psychiatric cases because of funding cuts built into the state budget.

About two-thirds of those employees have been laid off in the past few weeks. More layoffs are expected today , said Tom Wilhelmsen, the hospital’s president and CEO, and Scott Westover, vice president for strategic management.

Wilhelmsen said the hospital will have to close its behavioral health unit on its west campus. Those 30 inpatient psychiatric beds represent more than 60 percent of the psychiatric beds in the city.

Most of those job losses, however, did not occur until August and will be reported on this month.

Not surprisingly with the cuts in various aspects of state funding, the state’s jobless rate shot up to 5.2 percent fueled by a one-month loss of 9,100 jobs in local government.

Unemployment was 4.9 percent in June.

The one-month jump in the jobless rate was the largest in more than two years.

In addition to the Southern New Hampshire Medical Center cuts, administrators at St. Joseph Hospital laid off dozens of workers Wednesday.

The move came on the heels of earlier plans to close two subsidiary companies, Rockingham Regional Ambulance Inc. and Granite State Mediquip Inc., which could affect more than 10 percent of the hospital’s work force.

Those closings, to take effect this fall, come as the result of state budget cuts, which have left the hospital facing $19 million in losses over the next two years, according to David Ross, St. Joseph’s chief executive officer.

St. Joseph, which employs about 1,500 full-time workers, joined Southern New Hampshire Medical Center and eight other hospitals in filing a lawsuit against state officials over their plan to use Medicare reimbursements to balance the state budget.

Elsewhere in the state, Catholic Medical Center in Manchester announced that it cut its work force by 101 employees at all levels of operations as a result of dramatic changes in the New Hampshire state budget.

In addition, CMC will adapt the hospital’s free 24/7 “ask a nurse” call center service and limit community health programs, CMC said in a prepared statement.

The state budget’s impact also forced CMS to reduce work hours for some positions and temporarily freeze some employee benefits.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock in Lebanon offered early retirement to 725 workers as part of an effort to bring the institution’s budget in line with state Medicaid policy.

Depending on how many employees accept the offer, Dartmouth-Hitchcock could save from $5 million to $25 million, said Alan Weston, chief human resource officer for the Lebanon hospital and its clinics in Concord, Manchester, Nashua and Keene.

That’s only a fraction of the roughly $100 million hole in Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s 2012 budget caused by changes in Medicaid reimbursement enacted by state lawmakers. The early retirement offer doesn’t preclude the possibility of layoffs or other cost-cutting measures.

A little more than 8 percent of Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s work force of 8,700 will receive the early retirement offer. About 6,650 of the company’s workers are in Lebanon.

In acknowledging that cuts and public employee layoffs have driven up state employment numbers, Republican leaders have countered that private companies are hiring, citing a 1 percent growth in those employment numbers.

With the closure to Rockingham Ambulance, at least two private providers are entered serious competition for the 911 emergency response and patient transport business in Greater Nashua.

American Medical Response, a national company, and CarePlus, a statewide company headquartered in Merrimack, also have been competing to hire at least some of the 174 Rockingham Ambulance employees who lose their jobs as of Sept. 30. Both AMR, based in Colorado, and CarePlus have held job fairs to recruit Rockingham staff.

AMR, in fact, hired Rockingham executive director Chris Stawasz to head its new operations in Greater Nashua. AMR also hired Rockingham’s operations manager Roland Vaillancourt and community relations coordinator Michelle Provost in what the company termed “similar roles.”

CarePlus has held several job fairs for local EMS providers, including Rockingham employees. AMR has held eight such fairs to date and has also scheduled fairs from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sept. 7 and 8.

Patrick Meighan can be reached at 594-6518 or pmeighan@nashuatelegraph.com.