Republicans call for re-bid of New Hampshire state hospital contract

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CONCORD, N.H. >> New Hampshire Republicans are calling on the state to re-bid a $36.5 million contract for psychiatric services at the state hospital, contending the bidding process unfairly favored the Dartmouth-Hitchcock health system.

Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan's office called the allegations "baseless" and "politically motivated."

"We are fully confident that the facts will show that there is no merit to the Republican party's complaint whatsoever," Hassan spokesman William Hinkle said in a statement.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock won the contract in September to staff New Hampshire Hospital, the only state-run psychiatric facility. Dartmouth College previously ran the hospital, but did not reapply to bid this year due to restructuring. Republican officials and former hospital employees are alleging the state colluded with employees of both entities to undermine the competitive bidding process. Dartmouth-Hitchcock was the only bidder.

State Republican Party chairwoman Jennifer Horn said she will file a state ethics complaint later this week, calling the contract part of a "pay-to-play" scandal by the Hassan administration. There's no evidence in emails obtained by the Republican Party through public information requests to suggest Hassan herself attempted to unfairly influence the bidding process. There also is no evidence in the emails of payments aimed at influencing the bidding process.

The five-member Executive Council unanimously approved the Dartmouth-Hitchcock contract in September. Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu voted in favor of it but is now calling for a re-bid. He is running against fellow councilor Colin Van Ostern, a Democrat. Hassan, meanwhile, is it a tight race to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte.

As evidence of what it calls collusion, the state Republican Party is pointing to emails that show state health officials discussing the bidding process with a Dartmouth College employee. The party and the state Department of Health and Human Services shared the emails with The Associated Press.

The emails show David Folks, chief medical officer of New Hampshire Hospital and a Dartmouth College employee, provided some input to Health and Human Services officials as they drafted a new request for proposal to run the hospital. The information Folks provided included ideas for performance metrics and personnel descriptions. Not all of the information made it into the final contract.

That contradicts a statement HHS Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers made in June that the contract wasn't written by anyone outside the department. Meyers said Tuesday he made the statement at that time "in good faith" and later learned that Folks had offered some input. Meyers said the chief operating officer of New Hampshire Hospital was expressing interest in Folks' ideas as the hospital's chief medical officer, not attempting to give him undue influence.

"The allegation that's been made is that Dartmouth helped write the (request for proposal), and I think that's overstating the facts," Meyers said.

It's unclear what involvement Folks had in helping Dartmouth-Hitchcock write its bid for the contract or whether he shared any information about the request for proposal. A group of former New Hampshire Hospital employees who left this summer over a contract dispute said Folks was directly involved in writing Dartmouth-Hitchcock's bid.

A spokesman for Dartmouth-Hitchcock, Rick Adams, said he didn't know if and how Folks was involved. He did not return multiple follow-up requests for details. An attempt to reach Folks through another spokesman was routed back to Adams.

State health officials announced in September that Folks will leave his job at New Hampshire Hospital in January.


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