Updated: Porter chief Lynn Boggs calls it quits, Kniffin named interim head
MIDDLEBURY — After nine months on the job, Porter Medical Center Board President and CEO Lynn Boggs resigned on Friday afternoon.
The board appointed Dr. Fred Kniffin to serve as acting president and CEO.
“Thank you for the opportunity to serve as President and CEO of this great institution,” Boggs said in a release announcing her resignation. “I wish the Porter community well as they continue the important work of providing exceptional patient-centered care in our community.”
Maureen McLaughlin, chair of the Porter board of directors, offered her thanks to Boggs.
“Lynn has led the organization at a time of great change for small community hospitals like Porter,” McLaughlin said in a press release. “We appreciate her dedication and commitment to the organization.”
Porter has been rocked in the past six months by cuts in the nursing staff, cuts to some employee benefits, and the introduction of new contracts for some of the physicians. This came amid acknowledgment by Boggs that Porter — which encompasses Porter Hospital, Porter Health Care and Rehabilitation Center (nursing home) and 12 physicians practices — had lost $1.6 million in the most recently completed fiscal year and $11 million since 2012.
This newspaper published several letters from members of the community who were upset with the situation at Porter. One letter, signed by around 60 local people, acknowledged that the changing health care landscape in this country is putting financial pressure on medical care providers, but they said that the way Porter was responding to the pressure was hurting the situation, not helping.
“How these changes are taking place is tearing apart the fabric of our community and compromising Porter’s medical care,” the letter read. “A culture of fear, retaliation and bullying has permeated the ongoing restructuring effort. If the goal is quality care at less cost, it’s not working.
“We are losing doctors, nurses and supportive care providers at an alarming rate.”
The grumbling in the public started last fall when Porter administration decided to stop providing health insurance to some of its part-time employees. Porter employees had to work at least 20 hours per week to qualify for health coverage, but Boggs’ administration changed that to a minimum of 30 hours per week.
The Porter nurses union, which signed its first contract less than a year earlier, mounted a petition drive demanding that the increase in hours be rescinded. In six days they got more than 700 signatures on the petition, with most of the signers living in Addison County.
About the same time, the nurses union filed a complaint accusing Porter Medical Center of not following federal labor law.
In late January, Porter announced a series of staff changes and management restructuring that eliminated a total of nine employees, mostly in the 12 physician practices. Management, clinical and clerical positions were affected by these changes, including seven at the doctors’ offices and two in the hospital proper.
A few days later, Porter administrators updated that to say 8.5 Registered Nurse positions had also been cut. Officials said they could not publicly divulge the nursing cuts earlier due to the collective bargaining process.
At the Middlebury town meeting on Feb. 29, the nurses took some of the grievances public by passing out fliers. Among the claims was that the bad work environment at Porter Hospital had created 50-percent turnover of RNs in six months on the medical-surgical unit.
Medical center officials discussed the multi-million-dollar losses as a reason for the changing environment and pointed to a study that showed Porter provided as many or more nursing hours in the hospital as other hospitals in Vermont.
Board Chair McLaughlin and fellow Porter board member Patrick Norton responded to the public discontent at the beginning of the month, and offered a “mea culpa” for the way the situation had been handled.
They conceded that the rollout of new contract terms for some of the organization’s physicians had been too rapid and they vowed to become more inclusive and transparent. They even said they would take the current contract with physicians off the table and start anew.
The board members praised Boggs for the clarity in her strategic thinking. As part of its effort to improve its fiscal health, Porter late last year added a new Porter Infusion Center, which will eventually be equipped to dispense chemotherapy to patients who would otherwise have to travel outside the county to receive such treatment.
Boggs came to Porter last July. She replaced James Daily, who retired after three decades leading Porter Medical Center.
After announcing Boggs’ departure from Porter, McLaughlin, the board chair, on Friday said she was looking to the future.
“This has been incredibly challenging,” she said. “We are committed to Porter, and this community. We are ready to move forward.”
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