Interim hospital chief sees better days ahead

MIDDLEBURY — Assuming the reins at Porter Medical Center at the depths of one of its worst administrative setbacks in decades isn’t for the faint of heart and may require the patience of a saint. Porter’s new interim CEO Fred Kniffin, MD, is known by his colleages to possess both qualities, as well as someone who has experience as a doctor and in the hospital administration as chief medical officer.
“I’d characterize Porter’s condition as an acute illness,” Kniffin said in an interview Monday, his first official day in his new job. “But we’ve stabilized the patient, we’re treating the ailments, and it’s going to be OK.”
Kniffin’s analogy was to Porter’s recent fallout between its administration under former CEO Lynn Boggs and the nurses’ union and medical staff, which issued a vote of no-confidence in Boggs last week. After nine months on the job, Boggs resigned last Friday and Kniffin was appointed the same day. At issue were proposed changes in physician contracts, plus cuts to staff, but also the manner in which Boggs was implementing those changes.
Kniffin was resolute in the need for Porter to make the necessary changes, but optimistic the Porter medical community, which includes about 75 physicians (65 of whom are Porter employees), will be able to come together and “get the job done.”
“This change in leadership doesn’t mean no more change to the processes we started,” he said. “On the contrary, we have to move forward, everyone gets that … the nurses get it, the medical staff gets it, the administration gets it. What we had was a style problem, a problem of pace and a disconnect with the culture here … We have to do a better job of communicating and working with each other.”
While Kniffin ackowledged Porter will take a step back on the physician contracts and “take the time to get it right,” he also noted that Porter needed to improve its bottom line and everyone was in agreement that needed to be accomplished in the near term.
“We won’t dawdle on implementing some of the changes we need to make,” Kniffin said, “but we will have a change in attitude and we’ll collaborate with the medical staff and providers on devising contracts we can all embrace. It may take a little longer to get there, but we have to send the message — and I truly believe this — that our employees are our greatest resource. Everyone wants to work in a place where you feel valued and appreciated, and that’s our goal.
“Numbers matter,” Kniffin reiterated, “but we have to re-establish the soft stuff — being valued and respected.”
Kniffin also emphasized current efforts to stabilize and rebuild a good relationship with the nurses and the nurses union at Porter. He called the nurses and patient support staff at Porter “mission critical,” saying that the hospital’s focus has to be on patient safety and providing “excellent patient care.”
Kniffin had most recently served Porter Hospital as a staff physician in the Emergency Department, but previously had served as Porter’s Chief Medical Officer from 2013 to January 2016. He spent most of his career, from 1993-2013, as the Medical Director of the Emergency Department at Porter Hospital, and was a staff physician in that department from 1990-1993. He received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Vanderbilt Univerity in Nashville, Tenn., studying there from 1979-1987 and graduating with a Doctor of Medicine. He did his residency and training at the Medical Center Hospital of Vermont at UVM in Burlington, finishing in 1990.
He was also acutely involved in the medical staff governance and on the PMC Board of Directors. He served as president of Porter’s Medical Staff from 1999-2001 and from 2007-2009; was vice-president from 1997-1999, and has been chair of the Porter Hospital Credentials Committee. He served on the PMC board from 1999-2013. He has also served on the Middlebury Volunteer Ambulance Association board of directors from 2000-2004, and several state and regional boards association within the medical field.

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