Medical monitoring program in limbo

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Jun. 30—CONCORD — In an unusual move, the Executive Council on Wednesday turned down a new, out-of-state company to manage the program that monitors how physicians, nurses and pharmacists with substance abuse, physical or mental illness problems, can eventually return to work.

The Sununu administration ruled the current, long-time vendor, the New Hampshire Professional Health Program (NHPHP) of Concord, was recently in "default" after it sent a mass email to its medical clients, urging them to lobby the Executive Council to keep its contract.

The 4-1 vote puts in limbo these services since they ended Wednesday without a replacement agreement in place.

The state Office of Professional Licensing and Certification (OPLC) had recommended Parkdale Aftercare of Chesterton, Ind. be given the five-year, $2.1 million contract as the lower bidder with the higher score by state regulators.

The incumbent had offered to do the work for $4 million.

Executive Councilor Janet Stevens, R-Rye, noted this spending is not from taxpayers, but from the medical providers who pay for these services.

Councilors said they received a flurry of emails and telephone calls from doctors, nurses and hospital administrators, all pushing for retention of the existing program.

"We need to ensure the best possible care of providers," Stevens said.

Stephen Ahnen, president of the New Hampshire Hospital Association, said his members were united behind the existing vendor.

"This work is all about relationships and the vendor in place has a proven track record of doing this job extremely well," Ahnen said.

"We're already dealing with a serious worker shortage and this program has been essential for our members."

Turning down winning bidder 'not a good look'

Councilor Cinde Warmington, D-Concord, said Parkdale Aftercare would have a "blatant conflict of interest" because it already provides treatment services to nurses in Indiana and West Virginia.

"You would be talking about having the vendor manage a program when it's already a provider in this field," Warmington said.

"This should automatically disqualify them."

Executive Councilor Dave Wheeler, R-Milford, was the lone opponent.

"I think the image of the council turning down a vendor that legitimately won a bidding contract is just not a good look for the state of New Hampshire," Wheeler said.

Gov. Chris Sununu and Attorney General John Formella agreed the vote means there is no existing program in place to provide these services.

The current vendor could choose to continue to do the work, but at its own risk that it might not keep the job, Formella said.

OPLC Executive Director Lindsey Courtney said when it lost the bid, officials with NHPHP misused confidential information in trying to overturn the agency's recommendation.

"It is a clear violation of this confidentiality provision for NHPHP to use participant email addresses to encourage those participants to lobby the Executive Council on NHPHP's behalf," Courtney wrote the company.

The Union Leader obtained the lobbying email the firm had written.

In it, Deanne Chapman, director of operations with the incumbent, said Courntey's agency had recommended last April to give her company a five-year renewal of this contract. Sununu's office instead recommended the work again be sent out to bid.

"This is a very high stakes decision that has the potential for short-term chaos and long-term detriment to the work force of health professionals in N.H. and it couldn't be happening at a worse time," Chapman wrote.

Councilor Warmington, a health care lawyer, questioned if sending the email should have put the vendor in default.

AG Formella said one potential solution could be if the incumbent apologizes for the move and he will study further to determine whether the agency must fully rebid the contract.

"There still a few more questions that need to be answered," Sununu noted.

klandrigan@unionleader.com

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