Porter Medical Center cuts nine employees

MIDDLEBURY — Porter Medical Center late Friday announced a series of staff changes and management restructuring that eliminated a total of nine employees, mostly in the 12 physician practices owned and operated by Porter.
Management, clinical and clerical positions were affected by these changes, including seven at the doctors’ offices and two in the hospital proper. No jobs at the Helen Porter nursing home were cut.
Porter Medical Center employs a total of 780 people.
Officials at Porter said in a press release that the staff changes are intended to cut at least $1 million in the medical center’s expenses over the next year.
According to a fact sheet provided by Porter, PMC generated $11 million in cumulative operating losses since fiscal year 2012, and it projects an operating loss in the current year.
The $1 million in savings expected by making the staff changes announced Friday will occur through direct expense reduction and improved productivity to best position the organization for the coming wave of payment and health care reform, according to PMC President Lynn Boggs.
“These changes are part of our short-term strategic goal to begin closing a gap of $3 million-$4 million between our current financial operating performance and where we need to be in order to simply sustain and invest in essential services and equipment,” Boggs said in the press release. “As a small system, this amount of change does not happen without difficult decisions, but these changes are absolutely necessary to ensure that Porter is successful in fulfilling our patient care mission.”
Boggs may have given some foreshadowing of these job changes in a community forum she wrote and that was published in the Jan. 19 edition of the Independent. She wrote that determining a solid path for strengthening and sustaining the medical center’s services for the longer term would be hard work, and that it “will require difficult decisions like these in the months and years ahead.”
Further, she wrote, “This is a healthcare environment unlike anything we have experienced previously in our country. The amount of change, adaptability and flexibility that will be required cannot be understated. We will need the help and support of our leadership team, our employees, and the community in order to navigate the very challenging conditions ahead.”
The Green Mountain Care Board called Porter’s current/immediate financial situation “fragile,” Boggs wrote.
Boggs said in Friday’s announcement of the job cuts that the cumulative operating losses over the past four years had taken a toll.
“This is not an issue that emerged overnight; it has been a cumulative problem for Porter for a number of years,” she said. “However, it is imperative that we begin to address the reality that we are not generating sufficient financial resources to reinvest in our organization to support patient care services as required to serve our mission.”
The timing of Friday’s announcement appears to have been prompted by a change in hospital payments put forward recently by state regulators.
The Green Mountain Care Board last week unveiled the framework for a new system of payment for all Vermont hospitals that must still be finalized with and approved by the federal government, and that leaves many unanswered questions for all community hospitals. According to Boggs, the focus of this state-level change and Vermont legislators’ directives can be summed up in one phrase: Cost Containment.
“This reimbursement change further requires that we work to understand and reduce our operating expenses to help our citizens access affordable healthcare,” she said.
 PMC Board Chairperson Maureen McLaughlin added the perspective of the board:
“Our Porter Medical Center board is mindful of both the current financial status of Porter and the challenging road ahead as we navigate healthcare reform changes and determine strategic options for Porter. We value all of our staff and have the utmost respect for their work, skills and talents in caring for our community. We recognize that change is difficult. However, we have a fiduciary duty to fulfill our mission first and foremost, which means making these difficult decisions to ensure Porter’s viability now, and for many years to come.”
Porter informed staff of the changes on Friday afternoon.
Employees affected by these changes will be provided with support and information regarding other open positions available within the organization for which they may be qualified, McLaughlin said. 

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