Nottonson takes the helm at Helen Porter; Leader to shape budget, repairs

MIDDLEBURY — Mary Jane Nottonson couldn’t have picked a more pivotal time to make an impact on the future of Helen Porter Healthcare & Rehabilitation.
As Helen Porter’s new top administrator, Nottonson will guide the Middlebury nonprofit through a $1 million renovation project while simultaneously looking at ways to shore up a fiscal year 2017 deficit currently estimated at $2.1 million.
Helen Porter is part of University of Vermont Health Network-Porter Medical Center. Helen Porter’s workforce of 250 full- and part-time workers serves up to 105 mostly elderly patients needing long-term residential care, treatment for memory loss illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, or rehabilitation/physical therapy following significant surgeries.
“I’m happy to be here and am looking forward to working with the community and helping Helen Porter advance in many ways,” Nottonson said during an interview on Monday.
Nottonson, who started late this summer, takes over for former Helen Porter Administrator Jim Darragh, who recently left to take a job in Virginia. Bruce Bodemer had been serving as interim leader during what was a national search that culminated in Nottonson’s hiring.
“We are extraordinarily excited to have Mary Jane join our leadership team during this very important time in the history of Helen Porter,” Porter Medical Center spokesman Ron Hallman said. “We are pleased with the plans we have for Helen Porter and we are confident Mary Jane has the skill, background and maturity to get us to the next level. It’s really good news that we landed her.”
Nottonson holds a degree in Health Administration and Planning (with a concentration in Gerontology) from the University of New Hampshire. She has spent around three decades serving the elderly in various capacities.
After working a handful of years for Boston’s Elderly Commission, Nottonson became an administrator at the Sherrill House, a 196-bed, non-profit nursing home and rehabilitation center in Jamaica Plain, Mass. Then, in 1996, she joined the Sancta Maria Nursing Facility in Cambridge, Mass., initially serving as its assistant administrator. She was named director of that 130-bed facility in March of 2015. Like Helen Porter, Sancta Maria serves folks requiring memory care, traditional long-term care, and patients needing rehab services — sometimes referred to as “post-acute care” — after having been discharged from the hospital.
Nottonson and her family have always enjoyed Vermont. She’s an avid skier. When she learned Helen Porter was looking for a new top administrator, she eagerly applied, seeing it as an opportunity to finally reside in Vermont while working for what she saw as a top-notch elder-care organization.
“We were looking to make a change,” Nottonson said of her family, which includes her spouse and three children.
“The mission and the values of Helen Porter were very similar to the organization that I spent most of my career at,” she added, describing those values as “quality care,” “treating people with dignity” and “providing patient-centered care.”
Nottonson is gaining more familiarity each day with Helen Porter and its workforce, which she will lead through some exciting times that began earlier this year with PMC’s affiliation with UVM Health Network.
After around 25 years of helping people heal, rest and rehab their bodies, Helen Porter is preparing to undergo some physical improvements of its own. Plans call for an almost $1 million capital project that would include:
•  Major renovations to Helen Porter’s post-acute facilities used by patients rehabbing following surgeries.
“There’s an increased desire for people to live independently, and post-acute care is an important part of supporting that,” Nottonson said.
•  Creation of an “end-of-life” suite that will maximize quality of life for terminally ill patients. Addison Respite Care Home Ltd. already operates four comparable patient rooms at Helen Porter as part of PMC’s growing palliative care program.
The Addison Independent will provide more details on the Helen Porter project next week.
“It’s really great to have (Nottonson’s) experience and her leadership at the helm as we move forward with this project to create a renovated and improved post-acute area for Helen Porter, as well as the end-of-life suite,” Hallman said. “Mary Jane’s experience and perspective is going to help guide the project to a great completion, and we are very excited about that. We want Helen Porter to be the destination of choice for people seeking short-term care.”
Helen Porter’s fiscal year will conclude at the end of this month, and officials are anticipating a deficit of around $2.1 million. It’s another challenge that will benefit from Nottonson’s leadership, according to Hallman.
A nursing home remains a “very challenging business to run,” Hallman said, noting federal Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates that do not cover the true costs of care. Helen Porter has also seen substantial turnover among its staff in recent years, which has not helped the budget situation, Hallman conceded.
“It’s a very complicated business, but it’s essential to this community,” Hallman said. “Without Helen Porter, we wouldn’t really have a local (nursing home) option.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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