Porter moves closer to an affiliation deal with UVMHN
MIDDLEBURY — Porter Medical Center officials will spend this month reviewing key terms of an agreement that could lead to the organization’s affiliation with the University of Vermont Health Network early this spring.
“Things are going well,” PMC President Fred Kniffin said during a recent affiliation update to the Porter community. “The work is being done in a collaborative, respectful fashion … The ‘feel’ of the growing relationship between PMC and UVMHN is really good. Progress is being made.”
The Porter board this past October voted unanimously to sign a non-binding “letter of intent” to formally negotiate terms under which Porter would join UVMHN as an affiliate. It’s an association that would net PMC financial stability, a more diverse cadre of health care services for local patients, and two major capital improvements: A new, on-site medical office building to house Porter-affiliated practices, and replacement of Porter’s Meditech electronic medical records system with a more modern and efficient EPIC system.
The University of Vermont Health Network already includes the University of Vermont Medical Center (formerly known as Fletcher Allen Health Care), Alice Hyde Medical Center of Malone, N.Y., Central Vermont Medical Center of Berlin, Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital of Plattsburgh, N.Y., and Elizabethtown (N.Y.) Community Hospital. It boasted a combined staffing in 2015 of 1,188 physicians, 2,783 Registered Nurses, and a total of 7,995 employees.
Porter’s Steering and Legacy committees have been meeting, and will continue to do so, on a regular basis to oversee the possible affiliation. Officials have been reviewing a proposed membership agreement of about 20 pages that defines, in legal terms, Porter’s future potential relationship with UVMHN.
“We are almost done with this step,” Kniffin said, describing a smooth negotiations process with UVMHN.
“Both sides see benefit to affiliation, both sides recognize the need to proceed thoughtfully, but both sides want to move the process forward,” he added. “It is much easier to negotiate a deal that both sides view as beneficial, than if it is a deal that benefits only one party.”
Still, both parties have more than 1,000 pages of documents to review before all is said and done, including meeting minutes, financials, strategic plans and lawsuits.
“The documents have been exchanged and review is in process,” Kniffin said. “The completion date is mid-January.”
Meanwhile, the PMC board’s Governance Committee is reviewing the corporate bylaw revisions that would be needed for Porter to consummate its new relationship with UVMHN.
Porter and UVMHN officials are also carefully mapping out the proposed medical office building and electronic medical records upgrade.
“These are two big pieces of the affiliation deal,” Kniffin said, noting the new building is expected to cost $30 million to $40 million. An architect is currently working with hospital officials to map out the new building concept.
“We will probably not determine exactly who or what goes in the building by January, but we will determine feasibility, size and cost,” Kniffin said. “These must be defined and agreed upon prior to affiliation.”
UVM Health Network officials are planning a system-wide electronic medical records upgrade estimated at around $153 million, according to Kniffin.
“UVMHN and PMC are going to need to agree on a basic timeline for EPIC installation prior to affiliation,” Kniffin stressed. “We need to agree on the timeline and communicate clearly so we all share common expectations. We expect this work to be completed in January.”
Porter will need to implement some “branding” changes to its logos, signs, employee name tags, uniforms and stationery, if affiliation gets a final OK.
“Yes, there will likely be less blue and more green in our future,” Kniffin said of the new color scheme PMC would have to adopt to become compatible with UVMHN. “Work is under way examining how to best combine the UVMHN and Porter brands.”
For example, the new Porter sign might read, “The University of Vermont Health Network, Porter Hospital.
“There is a certain panache to being part of the University of Vermont Health Network,” Porter spokesman Ron Hallman said. “That is supported through co-branding.”
Kniffin and UVMHN President John Brumsted will lead a community discussion about the affiliation process on Thursday, Jan. 26, at 7 p.m., at Middlebury College’s Kirk Alumni Center. The public is invited.
All of the January groundwork is expected to place PMC and UVMHN leaders in a position to take a final vote on affiliation “by March or April,” according to Kniffin.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
Editor’s note: This story was changed after it was first published to correct an erroneous piece of information provided by Porter staff.
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