Porter to close Bristol Primary Care next month

BRISTOL — Porter Medical Center (PMC) will close its primary care practice in Bristol on April 12 in the wake of the recently announced departures of half of the practice’s health care providers.
While PMC officials acknowledged their decision to close Porter Primary Care Bristol was made more hastily than they would have preferred, they’re confident affected patients will be able to land new family doctors at neighboring Mountain Health Center or at other Porter practices within Addison County.
“We would have rather spent three to six months mapping this out,” PMC President Dr. Fred Kniffin said of the closure plan for Porter’s Bristol practice. 
But the decision to close, Kniffin explained, has had to be timed with the recently announced departures of key staff from a Bristol practice carrying almost four full-time equivalent positions, including Drs. Emily Glick, Natasha Withers, Lynn Wilkinson and Will Porter, along with Family Nurse Practitioner Ania Mortier and Physician’s Assistant Cassidy Heisler.
During the last two months, PMC officials learned Mortier would be opening a private practice in Middlebury with Dr. Laura Weylman. Glick will soon move out West to be closer to family. And Dr. Porter is joining Mountain Health to help lead what Kniffin described as a “very robust” Medication-Assisted Treatment program for those afflicted with addiction disorder.
Remaining Bristol Primary Care staff will be redeployed to other PMC practices in Middlebury, Vergennes and Brandon, according to Porter spokesman Ron Hallman.
“All these moves make sense for the providers involved and have our support — but it does put us at a fork in the road,” Kniffin said.
On the one hand, PMC could have tried to replace the three providers in order to sustain the practice at 61 Pine St., in the “Bristol Works” complex. It was Dr. Kevin Mulholland who established the office in 2006, at a time when longtime Bristol physician Dave Henderson was transitioning into retirement. Porter acquired Mulholland’s practice in 2008 to give it more stability and give Porter Medical Center a presence in Bristol.
In those days, PMC was still independent and its leaders were wary of the potential for the University of Vermont Health Network gaining a toehold in the local health care market.
But conditions have greatly changed since 2008, Kniffin stressed.
PMC two years ago became an affiliate of UVM Health Network, so there’s no reason to worry anymore about a possible incursion by a competitor.
The competition has instead come from Mountain Health, a Federally Qualified Health Center. As such, Mountain Health receives enhanced federal support, allowing it to offer a sliding scale discount for services to income-eligible uninsured and under-insured patients. Mountain Health’s varied services include primary care, acupuncture, dental care, Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) and massage therapy.
Mountain Health provides the aforementioned services to approximately 4,000 patients in a combined total of around 5,200 square feet at 74 Munsill Ave. just across the parking lot in Bristol Works. The practice’s listed physicians include Drs. Marian Bouchard, Brian Bates, C. Edward Clark, Frank Provato, Jeffrey Wulfman and Kate LaMancuso, who are complemented by two nurse practitioners, dental care staff and several RNs, LPNs and medical assistants.
Porter Primary Care Bristol, meanwhile, serves around 1,700 patients in more than 7,000 square feet in the same complex.
“It is clear from these numbers that the service area is over-capacitated with providers,” Kniffin said in a recent message to the Porter community. “There is absolutely no way either practice can be truly successful with eight providers vying for 6,000 patients.”
Kniffin emphasized the decision to close Porter’s Bristol practice was based on operations and not finances.
He lamented the impact the decision will have on patients.
“It’s going to be disruptive for the 1,700 patients we serve up there and I feel badly for all of them; it’s disruptive for our employees and I feel badly for all of them as well,” Kniffin said. “But when we look at what’s best for our organization and the entire Addison County community we serve, this is the right thing to do.”
It was on Wednesday, March 6, that PMC officials decided to close Bristol Primary Care.
They mailed letters out to affected patients on Friday, March 8.
“We’ll make sure every patient has a smooth landing somewhere,” Hallman said.
Martha Halnon is CEO of Mountain Health. She’s confident the practice will be able to accommodate a “good number” of the soon-to-be displaced Bristol Primary Care patients.
“We have two newer physicians who are in what I would call a ‘building year,’” Halnon said. “There is some capacity. The trick is going to be how we control the growth… We are certainly willing to help our community out. We’re just beginning to understand what it means, as patients make their (health care) decisions.”
Porter Medical Center still has a few years left on its Bristol Works lease, according to Kniffin. He’s been talking to Bristol Works owner Kevin Harper about future disposition of the space.
Halnon acknowledged Mountain Health could be in the market for additional room given the impending influx of new patients.
“We’ve been in communication with Kevin about space, because we were already tight,” Halnon said. “The question is, what’s the total square footage that will make financial sense to us and how does this space availability work into that?”
Kniffin is pleased Dr. Porter will help fortify Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) services originally launched in Bristol by Dr. Glick.
“Losing Will from Porter stings a little bit,” Kniffin said. “But the way he described it to me, he’s moving over to a really well-supported MAT program. If he can continue to do this work, that’s what counts for our community.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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