Porter’s new leader an ‘idea man,’ makes connections

MIDDLEBURY — Dr. Seleem Choudhury has never been afraid to roll up his sleeves and participate in all aspects of health care.
So it should have come as little surprise to Porter Medical Center employees to see their new president keying in sales on the hospital cafeteria’s cash register last Thursday morning. And that was after the much-credentialed Choudhury had used a very large knife to perform surgery on the cafeteria’s fruit selection.
“(Cafeteria workers) were teasing me, saying, ‘You know, the undercover boss isn’t supposed to tell us his name,’” a beaming Choudhury said in recounting his cafeteria experience.
But unlike events portrayed in the reality TV show “Undercover Boss,” Choudhury’s brief cafeteria stint wasn’t intended to be covert or entertaining. It’s his way of getting to know the many people he’ll be leading at Porter, along with the very important tasks they perform in collectively delivering health care to Addison County residents.
Choudhury, 48, is succeeding Dr. Fred Kniffin as Porter Medical Center’s top administrative officer. The pair have been virtually joined at the hip for the past few weeks while Kniffin acclimates Choudhury to his new job at PMC, which includes the hospital, Helen Porter Rehab & Nursing, and around a dozen affiliated provider practices.
Choudhury officially started at Porter as chief operating officer on April 29. He will take the mantle as president on June 1, when Kniffin returns to his full-time responsibility as an Emergency Department physician.
It’s clear Choudhury already knows his way around a hospital.
He has more than three decades of experience working in health care, much of it spent as a Registered Nurse delivering direct care to patients. He most recently served as vice president for professional services at St. Johnsbury’s Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital.
Choudhury began his career as nurse with the National Health Service in England. His résumé also reflects clinical and administrative roles at Ronald Regan Memorial Hospital (UCLA), University of Virginia Medical Center, Parker Adventist Hospital in Colorado and Denver Medical Center.
He will continue in his capacity as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Vermont, teaching both nursing and non-nursing students leadership, management theory and management of complex organizations and other health care related topics.
While he was enjoying his time at Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital, Choudhury last year decided it was time for a new professional challenge — and one that would allow him, his wife and their three children to stay in Vermont.
“I had reached a point in my career where I felt I’d hit the ceiling and my boss … recommended Porter Hospital,” he recalled.
Intrigued, Choudhury browsed the PMC website and was immediately impressed with the institution’s mission statement: “Improving the health of the community one patient at a time.”
“That was a seller, for me,” he said. “I’m very mission-driven, I’m very much about what we try to do with the individual as well as the community.”
Choudhury devoured additional information about the hospital, its provider practices, and Helen Porter Rehab & Nursing — which he called the “jewel in the crown” of PMC assets. He decided he wanted to become a part of Porter’s new initiatives, which include a transition to a new electronic medical records systems (known as Epic), expanded audiology services, and the recent launch of a new cardiac rehabilitation facility.
Porter has been resurgent of late after tough times that crested with layoffs and the sudden departure of Porter President Lynn Boggs in 2016 after nine months on the job. Kniffin, a well-respected and longtime Porter Hospital Emergency Department physician, filled the institution’s leadership breach and has helped restore PMC’s stability and financial health. Kniffin also presided over Porter’s recent affiliation with the University of Vermont Health Network, a partnership of regional hospitals that will yield perks, including a new electronic medical records system, a new office building and collaborations that will benefit Addison County patients.
Choudhury acknowledged Porter has a lot going for it, making it his preferred landing spot. He joked the clincher for his candidacy came upon learning of the Taste of India Restaurant in downtown Middlebury. Choudhury is of Indian ancestry.
He was one of 65 who applied for Porter’s presidency. The PMC board in March confirmed Choudhury as Kniffin’s successor.
INCOMING PORTER PRESIDENT Seleem Choudhury serves breakfast to Materials Management employee Penny Patterson this past Thursday as part of his orientation to his new leadership role under the watchful eye of Nutrition Services staff member Dillon Mahoney. Dr. Choudhury is shadowing in several clinical and non-clinical departments. Photo by Ronald G. Hallman
The interview process made Choudhury even more confident he had applied for the right job.
“What I saw was this level of excitement and engagement; this desire to do nothing less than the best,” he said. “You just can’t buy that.”
He described his management style as “very collaborative. I’ve always been described as the ‘idea guy.’ I like to come up with different ways to do things, trying to find innovations or some kind of disrupter as far as health care is concerned. I don’t see myself stopping doing that. The difference is, I’m president now.”
That means he’ll have more of a say in which ideas are pursued and brought to fruition. But he promised not to make decisions in a vacuum. Choudhury will respect and rely upon the advice of his leadership team.
“The team grounds me and gives me the reality check,” he said. “I want people to be comfortable saying, ‘That’s not going to work, and here’s why’; or ‘I love it.’”
Choudhury will spend the coming months connecting faces with names, and names with jobs.
Just as Kniffin has remained rooted in patient services, so will Choudhury.
Kniffin has maintained a presence in the hospital’s emergency department even while steering PMC. Much akin to last week’s cafeteria stint, Choudhury will occasionally help out with the hospital’s diverse functions.
“I like to do things other than nursing,” he said.
“I think connecting is really important. Having them understand where I’m at and having me understand where they’re at is an important component of leadership. ”
While he’s just getting his feet wet in his new job, Choudhury has high expectations for PMC.
“I do want to shift us to embrace growth,” he said. “I look at what we do really well here. We do patient care really well. We’ve got high engagement as far as providers are concerned, so I want to take advantage of how we use our providers.”
He’ll roll out specific ideas during the coming months.
Choudhury believes Porter’s new Epic electronic medical records system will lead to more collaboration between PMC providers and their colleagues at other medical centers within the UVM Health Network. The Epic system is being installed at all hospitals within the network.
He called the UVM Health Network affiliates “a team. When you look at a sports team, you have different talents that should complement each other. The fact we’re so close, so accessible — we should take advantage of that.”
Choudhury is particularly excited about the potential of Helen Porter Rehab & Nursing. When first launched around three decades ago, Helen Porter was about long-term nursing home care. It has been a financially troubled business, in large part due to Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement rates that don’t cover the true costs of service. But PMC officials have been broadening Helen Porter’s mission to include more financially lucrative and sought-after services, such as short-term rehabilitation and end-of-life care.
“You look at all the hospitals in Vermont, and most would give their right arm to have something like this on campus,” Choudhury said of Helen Porter. “There’s a lot of pride in nursing homes and nursing facilities. Access is often a difficulty for hospitals; for us, it isn’t. We have one right on our doorstep … The work they do there is amazing. The staffing model is very efficient.”
Porter spokesman Ron Hallman said Helen Porter is now well positioned for the future.
“We have made some recent investments over there in a short-term rehab center that’s now running at a very high census,” he said. “It’s doing exactly what we wanted it to do. I think we’re being mindful, prudent and doing the things that support Helen Porter. It’s an essential part of our mission to care for people from the cradle to the grave. If you’re going to do ‘population health,’ you have to be able to manage every aspect of a person’s life, and not have a hole in your spectrum of care.”
Choudhury acknowledged stability will continue to be a challenge for health care organizations. In addition to unpredictable federal reimbursement rates, health care reforms continue to come down from Washington and Montpelier.
“Part of our vision is that we’re transformative,” Choudhury said. “Hospitals are getting much better at navigating that whole thing. We have elections in the next two years, so things could change (at the national level). We just have to be agile and navigate our way through these waters. We’ve done it before and will continue to do that. The bottom line is that we’re here for one reason, and one reason only: Our patients.”
Hallman said he and his colleagues are excited to have Choudhury on board.
“He’s joining us at a really exciting time, as we mature as a member of the (UVM Health) Network,” Hallman said.
Porter will open its new cardiac rehab space and expand its audiology services in June. Construction on a handicap-access ramp serving the front door of the hospital will also begin next month.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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