Porter upheaval

MIDDLEBURY — Many would agree that 2016 was a year of peaks and valleys for Porter Medical Center (PMC), Addison County’s hub for health care services.
February was the first of several rough months for PMC, which includes the hospital, Helen Porter Healthcare & Rehabilitation, and a dozen affiliated provider offices. In the early days of that month, then-CEO Lynn Boggs announced a series of cost-cutting measures — including layoffs — in an effort to stabilize PMC’s budget. Hospital officials initially announced nine jobs cuts, primarily affecting nursing staff within PMC’s 12 physician practices. Later that month, Boggs placed the total number of layoffs at 17.5 positions.
Those layoffs triggered some discontent among PMC staff, resulting in a period of high employee turnover within the organization. Around 10 Porter-affiliated providers (members of the medical staff) also took flight, with several citing PMC’s awkward roll-out of a new compensation plan for physicians.
After rising dissention throughout the community and in board meetings, Boggs was pressured to resign after less than a year leading the hospital. The PMC board began its organizational turnaround with the hiring of veteran Porter Emergency Department physician Fred Kniffin as interim CEO. Kniffin immediately apologized for the manner in which the Porter administration had conducted the layoffs and the physicians’ contract roll-out, and began a successful recruitment process to fill provider vacancies and other staff positions.
By August, Kniffin and his administration had filled most of the vacant provider, nursing and staff positions, and the community’s confidence in the institution had been largely restored.
Meanwhile, the PMC board was also doing some recruiting of its own — for a new, permanent CEO. But board members gladly ended that search when Kniffin agreed to remove the  word “interim” from his title and remain PMC’s chief executive at least through September of 2017. He arranged his schedule so that he could continue to treat patients on a part-time basis.
Under Kniffin, Porter also made strides in getting its financial house in order. And that set the stage for a community dialogue on the biggest decision PMC had ever faced up to that point: Should the organization partner with another medical institution as a way of strengthening its financial profile and expanding its facilities and services?
Community members and the PMC community replied “yes,” and the board entertained affiliation offers from Tennessee-based Quorum Health, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Rutland Regional Medical Center and the University of Vermont Health Network. The Porter board ultimately agreed to pursue affiliation with UVM Health Network, an association they said would net the hospital long-term financial stability, shared resources and some substantial capital improvements — such as a new medical office building and a major electronic medical records upgrade.
Porter and UVM Health Network are currently working out details of how their partnership will be construed, and will be making a final decision on the likely affiliation in 2017.

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