Valley News – Jim Kenyon: Dartmouth Health’s media policy equates to doctors’ gag orders

It speaks volumes about the working environment at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center when a registered nurse running a harmless Instagram page is so afraid of management retaliation that she feels the need to hide her identity.

The nurse who opened the page called dhmc_memes about a year ago recently spoke with Valley news staff writer Nora Doyle-Burr provided their name is not mentioned.

In sometimes clever and often humorous ways, the account combines pictures and comic words to create Instagram posts that the strong powers of Dartmouth Health, the jumbo healthcare system of which DHMC is the flagship, probably don’t find it funny.

The page has more than 2,700 followers, hundreds of whom have joined since the July 23 story in Valley news. The nurse teases the internal reminders and instructs DHMC to serve canteen dishes that “could give you food poisoning.” Joanne Conroy, CEO of Dartmouth Health, who apparently travels the vast Lebanon campus of the DHMC on a Segway-style scooter, has also been teased.

I don’t blame the part-time satirist behind the meme page for wanting to remain anonymous.

Dartmouth Health has a policy that prohibits its 13,000 employees from speaking publicly about the workplace unless they obtain permission from the organization’s communications and marketing department.

The policy also states that some of the media relations staff “will participate in all interviews”. If it’s a phone interview, DH’s media relations professional will listen.

I’m surprised Conroy and Co. doesn’t require base employees to sign an oath of allegiance.

DH commanders are obsessed with protecting their new “brand,” launched in April which has resulted in large sums of money being thrown into marketing to attract new patients to Southern New Hampshire, where DH has spent a lot of money on bricks. and mortar. Meanwhile, Upper Valley hospitals and clinics often lack the staff to provide timely care to patients they already have.

Fortunately, there are examples in the vicinity of similar-sized medical centers where workers don’t have to follow the company line to collect a salary.

The University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington is one of those places.

Last summer, when there was growing concern among UVM nurses that staff shortages were affecting the quality of care, they turned to social media to let the outside world know what was going on inside the hospital. They didn’t hesitate to use their names and have their photographs appear on a nurse’s website.

“Our patients deserve efficient care where safety and quality are not compromised because one person has to do the work of two,” wrote RN Stephanie Lusk.

Why are UVM Medical Center nurses comfortable speaking publicly?

Perhaps because in 2002 the nurses registered in the largest hospital in the state voted to form a union. The Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, which is part of the AFL-CIO, currently represents approximately 2,000 UVM nurses and 600 technicians.

Nurses pay 1% of their annual salary in union dues and seem to get their money’s worth. Earlier this month, the union and the medical center agreed on a new contract that offers nurses a 20% salary increase over two years.

“It’s about fairness,” said union president Deb Snell, a registered nurse in the hospital’s intensive care unit. “Without a union, you are on your own.”

Nurses – or anyone else, for that matter – shouldn’t have their pay determined by whether “your boss likes you or not,” Snell said.

(By the way, Snell didn’t have to ask permission from UVM Medical Center’s PR office before talking to me. “If they tried, I’d laugh at them,” Snell said.)

DHMC nurses are not unionized, but not for lack of trying. The units started up in 2008 and 2010, but both have vanished. In 2019, a group of DHMC nurses contacted the Northeast Nurses Association, or NENA for short, to initiate another union effort. However, “it didn’t lead to an organizational campaign,” Nela Hadzic, who heads the organization for NENA, told me last week.

From what I’ve heard, the 2,500 nurses at DHMC and its clinics earn decent wages, which helps explain why the union hasn’t caught on. I was told that experienced nurses in some departments can earn $ 100,000 a year.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, however, nurses across the country have found that money and job satisfaction don’t always go hand in hand. Many are now prioritizing occupational safety and health.

“With over 100,000 Americans hospitalized and many in their ranks infected, nurses and other health care workers remain on the precarious frontline against coronavirus and have turned to unions for help again and again,” The New York Times written in 2021.

In the past year or so, nurses from three hospitals have voted to join the union through the Massachusetts Nurses Association, the organization that worked with DHMC nurses during the 2008 and 2010 units.

“Many nurses are realizing that they cannot count on the government to protect them when their lives are in danger every day,” said David Schildmeier, spokesman for the third largest US union of nurses and health professionals with 23,000 members.

Like many hospitals, the DHMC is struggling to recruit and retain nurses. According to its website, DHMC has around 250 openings.

On Thursday, I asked DHMC spokesperson Audra Burns via email if supporting a union effort could help with recruiting. I didn’t get an answer.

The nurse behind the Instagram page conducted some informal polls to gauge interest in the union. The answers showed a 50/50 split.

“I’m just making art,” the nurse told al Valley news. “Someone else can argue that problem.”

Whether a champion will emerge remains to be seen. Meanwhile, DHMC nurses will remain powerless to speak freely and openly about their workplace.

Just the way their bosses like it.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at [email protected]

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