New Porter chief maps out future priorities

MIDDLEBURY — The state and national health care systems are changing at warp speed, and new Porter Medical Center (PMC) President Lynn Boggs is determined to make sure that Addison County’s community hospital isn’t left in the dust.
Boggs, during a Monday interview with the Independent as she rounds out the first two months of her tenure, outlined an ambitious agenda that includes preparation of long-range facilities and strategic plans to help guide Porter through the next two decades.
She brings a wealth of experience, energy and an unmistakable southern twang to her new leadership role at PMC, where she has some substantial shoes to fill. She succeeds Jim Daily, who retired this past spring after 31 years at the helm of an organization that includes Porter Hospital, Helen Porter Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center and 12 affiliated physicians’ practices.
Boggs previously worked as a senior vice president for Mission Health in Asheville, N.C., and as president and CEO of McDowell Hospital in nearby Marion.
Though still relatively new to the job and the area, Boggs is impressed with what she’s seen at Porter, an organization she hopes to make even stronger while navigating it through the various state and federal health care reform efforts.
“My attraction to Porter, primarily, was the board,” Boggs said. “What impressed me about the board of directors was their genuine commitment, interest and dedication to making this place work. As you know, any CEO that walks into a difficult board situation is going to have a difficult job, so I was so impressed with the way (the Porter board) was walking through the process of finding their next CEO and asking the right questions. They were so exceptional.”
She also lauded PMC’s administrative team for helping her quickly settle in.
Boggs called the team “a set of people who really want to do a good job.”
Having been briefed ahead of time on Porter’s financial status and operations, Boggs said she has not encountered any surprises since joining the fold.
“It’s a great community hospital that is, like most hospitals, trying to understand what health care reform is going to bring, and get ready for it,” she said. “They are not there yet. Part of my job is to help them get ready for that.”
Ron Hallman, PMC’s vice president for development and public relations, credited Boggs for being a quick learner on the job. And she has done that learning in the field, not through a series of briefings in her office.
“Within her first day, she started a listening tour,” Hallman said. “She held a town hall meeting at the hospital and a town hall meeting at the nursing home. Over the past six or seven weeks, we have driven to every single one of the 12 (physicians’) practices — and not just for a drive-by handshake. Lynn has asked every group, ‘What do you need?’ ‘What’s working and what’s not working?’ and ‘How can we better support your work to take care of patients?’”
Boggs has made it clear, according to Hallman, that the patients and the nursing home residents come first in the pecking order of priorities.
“I think our staff have responded to that,” Hallman said. “Certainly we need financial resources and good patient satisfaction and equipment, but we are really here for the patients.”
A nurse by background, Boggs said she has developed a particular penchant for “taking care of people when they are most vulnerable. They are scared and need to feel that connection with people who are there to care for them.”
Boggs acknowledged the relatively close proximity of much larger hospitals to the north (University of Vermont Medical Center) and south (Rutland Regional Medical Center). She realizes that some Addison County residents have been willing to travel the extra distance for the perceived advantages that a larger hospital might offer. But Boggs believes that if Porter sticks to what it does best — primary and secondary care — it will continue to draw what has been a steady stream of patients and maintain a symbiotic relationship with the larger hospitals, which tend to attract patients seeking specialized care and procedures.
“We want to do what we do the best we can do it,” Boggs said. “That means we have got to provide all of the services that we can reasonably provide and we’ve got to do it at an exceptional cost and with exceptional quality. That is what we are going to be doing here, so our community can feel very comfortable about getting what they get here, and they will know we will also work in their best interests to get them to a higher level of acuity, if they need it.”
Upon her arrival at Porter Medical Center, Boggs was surprised with what she found to be a lack of competition in the Vermont hospital market.
“I come out of highly competitive markets, where you are scrambling for every patient,” she said. “This is much less competitive. I think part of it is the Green Mountain Care Board kind of keeps an equal playing field, so it prevents some of that competition. That probably is a good thing.”
If there is anything about which PMC should be wary when it comes to competition from the larger hospitals, it’s the intense recruitment of a limited number of health care workers, according to Boggs.
“There is a very low unemployment rate here, and we have a hard time finding employees,” Boggs said. “That seems to be more of an issue than competition for patients.”
Patients are often surprised with the breadth of services they can receive at Porter, Boggs noted. For example, Porter is one of few hospitals in the region to offer 3-D digital mammography.
“The operating rooms here look spectacular,” she said. “Everything is very much up-to-date. For a community hospital, I’m really quite surprised at how well equipped we are.”
That said, Boggs acknowledged PMC needs to upgrade some of its facilities — particularly in the realm of ambulatory, or outpatient services.
“If you think about where health care is going in a global budget where wellness is emphasized and sickness is to be avoided, everything is ambulatory,” Boggs said, “not just with what is going on with the physicians’ practices, but what we do here for ambulatory services.”
Radiology, laboratory, and various operating room procedures are increasingly becoming same-day treatments. Porter must become better equipped to dispense such care, according to Boggs.
“Today, if you come to Porter to get ambulatory care, most of it is delivered down behind the hospital and through a back door,” Boggs said. “It’s not easy to see; it’s not easy to understand or access; and it doesn’t feel like the front door as you might want it to in a reformed facility where you are really looking at a high emphasis on ambulatory care.”
She noted Porter Medical Center is still very “hospital-centric” and should do a better job in publicizing and providing its outpatient services.
Fortunately, PMC has launched two major initiatives aimed at improving services, according to Boggs.
First, the hospital has signed a contract with the Maine-based company Stroudwater Associates to help the PMC board develop, by next January, a strategic plan to map out the organization’s priorities for the future. It will be the first such plan that PMC will have prepared “in many, many years,” according to Hallman.
Second, the organization is beginning what Boggs called a “master facility plan” with a New Hampshire architectural firm. The plan will include an inventory of current PMC facilities and how they could be improved.
“What we want to know is ‘How do we get from today to 10 or 20 years from now?’” Boggs said. “You have to have a strategic plan that is inclusive of the right facilities and the right programs.”
Boggs has outlined some additional goals for Porter to work on while the two long-range plans are being prepared. They include:
• Improving patient care and quality in all PMC service categories.
• Continuing to build PMC’s balance sheet to give it increased financial stability.
• Making strides in patient satisfaction.
• Ensuring all PMC employees receive prompt annual evaluations.
• Reducing employee turnover.
“We have around 10 clear, measurable goals that Lynn has gotten the board to sign off on … and we are going to be rolling those out and engaging our managers and employees,” Hallman said.
Nurses union president Alice Leo said her organization looks forward to working with Boggs.
“We are pleased to learn that our new CEO, Lynn Boggs, is focused on patient centered care,” said Leo, president of the Porter Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. “Our working conditions are the conditions in which high quality, patient centered care happens. Safe staffing, our top priority, is a key component to this. We are excited to be working with Lynn to provide the best possible patient care.”
Read about Porter’s proposed budget for the coming year by clicking here.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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