Porter Medical Center planning for new growth on campus

MIDDLEBURY — Porter Medical Center officials are back to work planning for future growth on the PMC campus during the next five years. The four-month effort will culminate in a facilities master plan that will be anchored by a new medical office building.
It was back in the summer of 2015 that Porter signed a contract with the architectural firm Lavallee Brensinger to assist with facilities planning. Porter Medical Center includes the hospital, Helen Porter Healthcare & Rehabilitation and 12 affiliated physicians’ practices. Officials wanted a thoughtful analysis of PMC facilities, with recommendations on how they should be improved and expanded over several years.
Unfortunately, PMC leaders had to pull the plug on long-range facilities planning soon after it got started.
“We got a short way into the process and realized a few things,” PMC President Dr. Fred Kniffin explained in a recent message to the hospital community. “First, our strategy and vision for our future as an organization were unclear. Secondly, we had no space and no money, so all the plans in the world were not going to move us forward.”
It was a tough year that included layoffs, the resignation of CEO Lynn Boggs and the defection of several medical providers from the PMC network. But Porter weathered the storm and recently took a big step toward long-term stability by forging an affiliation with the University of Vermont Health Network (UVMHN), an organization that has promised Porter financial help for a new medical office building and a substantial upgrade in its electronic medical records system.
Porter officials reasoned it would make more sense to view those two projects in the context of an overall campus facilities plan. So Porter is rekindling that planning process under the leadership of an eight-person steering committee.
“We want to make sure we have a grand vision for all of our facilities, and not just do ‘one-offs,’” Porter spokesman Ron Hallman said. “When we got the commitment from the UVMHN to invest in a new medical office building, that inspired us to step back and say, ‘If we move clinical operations into this new space, that is potentially going to free up space behind it.’ All of a sudden, you realize that you want to have a plan for that space. You just don’t want to move everything into a new building and then look around and say, ‘What are we going to do with this other space?’”
Rebecca Woods is Porter’s chief administrator for the facilities master plan. She explained that the planning effort has gotten a nice jumpstart from the prospect of the new office building on campus. At this early stage, officials are talking about an approximately 40,000-square-foot structure that would house some of the current PMC provider practices that are now located off-campus. Some of those practices are located in rented space; others are in Porter-owned buildings.
Deciding which of the practices should get moved into the new medical office building and what should be done with any vacated spaces are among questions the facilities master plan will answer, according to Woods. She doesn’t anticipate PMC selling any of its off-campus properties that would be left vacant as a result of the new medical office building. For example, Porter could choose to move some of its non-clinical personnel to those spaces, officials said.
“We shouldn’t bring all the people who are out in the town here — that’s a lot of South Street traffic,” Woods said.
Hallman agreed.
“We need to be mindful that we bring the practices on to our campus that make sense, from a clinical and community perspective and that we recognize that a lot of the care needs to stay out in the community — especially primary care,” he said. “Not everything needs to be on our campus; we don’t want it to be, nor can it be.”
UVMHN has hired Halsa Advisors as a planning consultant for the new office building. Lavallee Brensinger is again on board to provide architectural services.
Once completed, the new building is expected to be a big convenience for physicians and patients, according to Woods.
“This will be a new, cutting edge building with radiology and all the specialties there on campus, so (users) could just walk across the parking lot into the Operating Room and not have to rush across town,” Woods said. “This will apply to any specialty that is in our OR.”
In addition to planning for future facilities, Porter is also preparing an employment transition for its 40 medical care providers. Those physicians will, over the course of the next 18 months, become UVMHN employees as part of the affiliation agreement. Local providers will continue to be dedicated to Porter and will not be re-deployed to other UVMH-member medical centers, according to Tom Manion, vice president for Porter Medical Group, the association of PMC provider practices. And the remaining 95 percent of PMC employees will remain Porter workers, according to Kniffin.
“Essentially, they should see no change in their jobs,” Manion said of the doctors. “They will be employed by UVMHN and contracted back to us.”
As UVMHN employees, the providers will have access to more training opportunities and collaborations with their peers within the health network, Manion said. The UVM Health Network is currently a five-hospital system with more than 1,000 physicians, 2,000 nurses and a variety of clinicians in Vermont and northern New York.
At this point, PMC providers are generally upbeat about the impending transition, according to Manion.
“Close to half of our patients go to UVM Medical Center for some care,” Manion said. “This opens up channels of communication that … will help our patients in the long run.”
And that communication will be further enhanced when PMC joins UVMHN’s electronic medical records system that will allow patient records to flow seamlessly between member practices and hospitals, Manion noted.
“That will be such a win for patients,” he said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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