Porter creates new blueprint for growth on medical center campus

MIDDLEBURY — Porter Medical Center has completed a long-range facilities plan that recommends a series of capital projects for the next decade that include a new medical office building, a more modern emergency department, expanded lab and imaging facilities, and a renovated front entrance to the hospital.
The new “University of Vermont Health Network — Porter Medical Center Master Facility Planning Priorities” document is the product of six months of “meeting, talking and thinking about our current facilities and future needs,” Porter President/CEO Dr. Fred Kniffin said during a recent interview.
Kniffin credited a group of architects, planners and project managers for helping PMC take inventory of its current assets, determine how those assets could be improved, and propose new facilities to help Porter better fulfill its mission of providing a variety of health care services to Addison County residents. Porter Medical Center includes Porter Hospital, Helen Porter Healthcare & Rehabilitation and 12 affiliated physicians’ practices in Middlebury, Bristol, Brandon and Vergennes.
Porter has long maintained a wish list of projects to modernize its South Street campus in Middlebury, but its affiliation with UVM Health Network last year has greatly increased the prospects of some of those dreams becoming reality.
“When (affiliation) became official last April, we paused and said, ‘Even though we have this allocation for some sort of capital, we probably should participate in the network’s master facilities planning process,’” said Porter spokesman Ron Hallman. “Because rather than forging ahead and spending money on a project we thought was a good idea, we decided we should actually go through a very comprehensive process.”
As reported in Monday’s Addison Independent, Porter Medical Center and three other UVM Health Network affiliates got permission to equip themselves with a state-of-the-art, Epic-brand electronic health records system that will allow patients’ medical documents to seamlessly flow between health care providers.
And PMC has long desired a new medical office building in which to consolidate some of its provider practices and offer additional space for new services.
Those two aforementioned projects were major reasons for PMC’s decision to affiliate with UVM Health Network.
But other space needs — both large and small — will emerge on campus during the next 10 years, officials acknowledged. The new facilities plan outlines what they are likely to be. The report specifically recommends that Porter Medical Center:
•  Create space for cardiac rehabilitation as a new service in the community. Such patients, Kniffin noted, are currently having to travel to other medical centers to get that service.
•  Convert a current surgical procedure room to a third operating room.
•  Modernize the Emergency Department.
•  Create a “multi-specialty ambulatory care facility” that could provide such amenities as an integrated women’s and children’s center, a surgical multi-specialty clinic and an oncology center.
•  Provide a modern flexible inpatient medical-surgery unit.
•  Modernize key outpatient departments, including radiology and laboratory.
•  Revitalize Brandon Primary Care, creating a multi-specialty clinic.
“Demographic data shows opportunity for increased market share in the southern end of our service area,” Kniffin said. “Let’s refresh our Brandon office and identify the right mix of services.”
•  Improve the front entrance to the main hospital building.
“Our current ‘front door,’ the entrance to the old brick hospital building, is a mess,” Kniffin said. “The stairs are handicap inaccessible, the doors are heavy and manual. I routinely rescue patients and families trying to get up and down the stairs. Whether we renovate this entrance or chose another more user-friendly entrance for our patients and families is still under debate. But we need to do something.”
Porter officials emphasized the proposed growth and renovations will not happen overnight. Some of the projects might not get off the drawing board. And acquisition and implementation of Epic software will keep PMC busy for awhile.
“There will be real restraint in capital expenses for the next couple of years,” Kniffin said.
Since growth depends in large part on finances, PMC officials know the smaller chores — such as creation of new cardiac rehab space — could jump to the head of the line.
At the same time, Porter officials will be able to lay a foundation for the bigger things to come.
“We have an opportunity over the next year or two to spend some thoughtful planning time on some of these bigger projects,” Hallman said. “So when the capital frees up, we’ll be ready to hit the ground running.”
Area residents and Porter clients next month will see a sign of the construction to come.
Helen Porter will undergo around $850,000 in renovations that will make the facility better equipped to serve patients rehabbing from serious injuries and illnesses, as well as those who are in the final stages of their lives. The repairs will involve a combined total of 11,300 square feet at Helen Porter Healthcare & Rehabilitation and will result in five new patient rooms, two specially designed rooms for terminally ill patients; some private rooms for nursing home patients; better flow to the Helen Porter gym; and improved physical therapy amenities.
Kniffin is looking forward to further additions to the PMC campus.
“Our architects will be reviewing our priorities and providing us with suggestions on how to most efficiently address our priorities,” he said. “There is more work to be done but we are off to a good start.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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