May 09, 2019LITTLETON — In late February, Littleton Regional Healthcare gave notice of intent to withdraw from their three year affiliation with North Country Healthcare, founded in 2015, as a limited liability corporation between LRH and three other major area hospitals: Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital (Colebrook), Androscoggin Valley Hospital (Berlin), and Weeks Medical Center (Lancaster), and North Country Home and Hospice (Littleton). If Littleton Regional Healthcare had remained, the association would have become permanent.
In a previous report to the Courier in February, LRH President Bob Nutter offered this as a statement in regards to the withdrawal: "The goals of the affiliation have been closely evaluated since the agreement was implemented, we have concluded that because of our different strategies and distinctive communities served, these goals can best be achieved independently."
On April 4, LRH filed suit against NCH.
The complaint reads, "LRH has brought a complaint against the defendants seeking temporary, preliminary and final relief compelling defendants to take steps to implement and not interfere with Littleton's withdrawal from a certain affiliation agreement it entered into with the other hospitals. Littleton has filed it's suit in Merrimack County Superior Court in the Businesses and Commercial Dispute Docket."
The complaint goes on, "A hearing on the Plaintiff's (LRH) request for a temporary restraining order pursuant to superior court rule 48 shall be held on April 16."
In the court filing, LRH stated, "LRH brings this action to enforce its certain and unqualified contractual right to withdraw from a loose affiliation of hospitals in the northern region of New Hampshire that share as their parent corporation North Country Healthcare, Inc. This case involves a business dispute over unique contractual rights accordingly, meets the criteria of Superior Court Rule 201(III)."
In turn, NCH filed a counter suit in Coös County Superior Court. Defendants in that case are listed as Littleton Regional Association D/B/A Littleton Regional Healthcare, Roger Gingue, Patrick Fitzpatrick, Robert Nutter, Edward Duffy and George Hunter.
System Director for NCH James Patry said, "We welcome the intervention of the New Hampshire State Attorney General on Littleton Regional Hospital's intention to withdraw affiliation with North Country Healthcare. The process to create NCH was open and public, and any proposed changes to its structure should also be transparent, intentional and public. We will participate fully and honor the results of an open and public process. Our Hospitals worked cooperatively for two years to hold community forums, create a business plan, and get approval from the New Hampshire State Attorney General to affiliate in 2016."
Patry continued, "LRH served notice of their intent to withdraw and took legal actions in order to accelerate that withdrawal to pursue 'new opportunities.' This violated our Affiliation Agreement (to which all NCH members are legally bound. Our Agreement clearly states that an accelerated or alternative withdrawal process is not allowed. The terms of the Agreement were specifically designed so all parties would follow a fair and equitable negotiation process that would allow enough time to smoothly unwind the integration that has taken place over the last several years."
NCH stated that they are disappointed that LRH has taken their dispute to the courts and has chosen not to follow the agreed-upon departure guidelines that include a four month period for review and negotiation.
"After they approached us with their intention to leave, we recommended holding a meeting of the LRH and NCH Boards in the interest of resolving this issue with open and transparent communication. LRH opted not to participate, and then filed suit," Patry said. "In light of that LRH lawsuit, North County Healthcare filed a counter-suit in Coös County Court against Littleton Regional Hospital for failing to live up to our affiliation agreement, negotiating in bad faith, and taking unilateral actions that go against the spirit of collaboration of our Affiliates in providing improved, efficiently-delivered healthcare to the citizens of the North Country."
In closing, Patry explained that NCH will continue to work towards dispute resolution, stating "We hope to engage LRH in transparent and productive discussions, towards the goal of continued collaborative healthcare in the North Country. We continue to respect and value LRH's leadership within the Affiliation, and their substantial contributions to the health of the region's communities."
"Every day, our employees and medical staff strive to serve families across the North Country." said Patry. "We are proud of what we are accomplishing, and we care deeply about the communities we serve. That is what drives us. The actions of LRH will not deter us from our Mission: to assure consistent, high quality, accessible, and integrated healthcare across the communities we serve."
Former LRH Trustee Mell Brooks stated in a letter to the editor submitted for publication in this week's Littleton Courier that the withdrawal was a "staggering surprise" to him.
Brooks wrote, "For nine years, I was an LRH Trustee; it was at that time that Warren West became CEO and Dr. Ed Duffy the Board Chair. Often, I think how lucky LRH was to have these men at that time. The three years they worked as a team put LRH on the path to become the hospital it is today - and unbeknownst at the time, to be part of NCH in June 2015." Brooks went on to say,"Both Warren and Ed have served as CEO of NCH. And, now, as NCH brings on Tom Mee (a most qualified and competent healthcare professional) as its new CEO, Littleton wants to withdraw from NCH."
Brooks added, "I don't understand this. We are told the withdrawal is "because of our different strategies and distinctive communities served, these goals can be best achieved independently." But the facts, as I can ascertain, do not support that statement - it's just the opposite."
Officials at LRH were contacted for comment on this report, but said they are not prepared to address either suit publicly at this point in time. They promised, however, that a statement will be forthcoming in the near future.