Kniffin passes the torch to new hospital president

EAST MIDDLEBURY — Dr. Fred Kniffin — who helped guide Porter Medical Center through a financial crisis and oversaw the organization’s landmark affiliation with the University of Vermont Health Network — found himself at-times speechless on Wednesday, May 29, as his colleagues showered him with praise during a party held in his honor.
And that’s rare for the loquacious  Kniffin, a man with great communication skills who’s always ready with a humorous rejoinder.
The praise coincided with the end of Kniffin’s eventful three-year tenure as Porter Medical Center president. But as he reminded the crowd of more than 50 people, he’ll remain easy to find. Kniffin is returning to his former role as a Porter Emergency Department physician, from whence he was plucked in 2016 to fill a spot vacated by Lynn Boggs after only nine months as Porter president.
As new PMC President Dr. Seleem Choudhury looked on, a procession of Porter officials shared their thoughts about Kniffin’s leadership tenure during the celebration at the Waybury Inn in East Middlebury. Kniffin officially inherited the job on March 21, 2016. The organization had been mired in a financial slump. The previous administration had laid off more than a dozen workers. Kniffin put together a leadership team that brought the organization back to solvency and coordinated an affiliation with the UVM Health Network.
“My teammates wrapped me up in love and support,” Kniffin said. “I knew somehow that teamwork was important to successful leadership. We just started running and I’m enormously proud of the work we’ve done together. The team has done it all.”
Dr. John Brumsted, president of UVM Health Network, was a prominent member of the team. He praised Kniffin for his accomplishments in the face of adversity.
“It’s amazing in an entire administrative career if you get to bring an organization through the rough, choppy waters… and you get to a place where you work with colleagues and your community to guide an organization through a transformation that is going to set it up for decades to come,” Brumsted told Kniffin. “You got to do both of those things. It was a real honor and pleasure to work with you.”
Dr. Ben Rosenberg, a longtime colleague of Kniffin’s, offered some warm words for his doppelganger (the two physicians looking strikingly alike).
He credited Kniffin for having been an instrument of change for the hospital throughout his tenure. He said Kniffin successfully advocated for the hiring of specialized ER docs for the Emergency Department, and ushered in an era of “hospitalist” physicians at PMC.
Kniffin, he added, helped PMC’s Emergency Department technology make the transition to the 21st century. And he said Kniffin wasn’t afraid of assuming leadership roles when asked, as shown by his stint as the hospital’s first chief medical officer and his willingness to step in as interim president.
He praised Kniffin for asking thoughtful questions, paying attention to detail, having an even keel, being honest and showing “real care for the people with whom he interacts.”
“Fred, we’re tremendously grateful for all you’ve done for our community,” he said.
Rosenberg joked about his resemblance to his colleague, saying it has had its perks.
“I’m happy to take credit for Porter’s turnaround,” he said with a laugh.
PMC board Chairman Sivan Cotel lauded Kniffin for his on-the-job teaching skills, for leading by example and for earning respect, rather than simply trusting it would flow from his title.
“I’ve had such a privilege to spend time with Fred over the last couple of years,” Cotel said as he presented Kniffin with a plaque honoring his more than three decades (this far) of contributions to Porter.
“(Kniffin is) someone who comes in and not only sees what needs to be done, but also brings everyone with him,” Cotel added. “I’ve loved working with Fred.”
Longtime Porter spokesman Ron Hallman lauded Kniffin for his weekly email messages to the Porter community, which became dependable “state of the medical center” updates for scores of people during his time at president.
Borrowing a quote from British Prime Minster Winston Churchill, Hallman told Kniffin, “History will be good to you,” and presented him with a bound, “greatest hits” copy of his weekly messages.
The departing president received some very tangible and symbolic gifts that included a rocking chair and a pillow made with a portion of the colorful drapes from one of the Porter Hospital’s former conference rooms. The biggest-ticket gift came in the form of a giant-size, $75,000 pledge check from the Porter Auxiliary, earmarked for improvements to the Helen Porter Rehab & Nursing facility.
Alix O’Meara, president of the PMC Auxiliary, noted Kniffin’s ongoing efforts to strengthen Helen Porter.
“We want to thank Fred for his thoughtfulness and his dedication to this community for the past few years,” O’Meara said.
Kniffin was clearly touched by the kind words and gifts.
He credited his teammates for always doing what was right for Porter’s overall mission, even when it might not have been best for them individually.
“They always, unfalteringly, did what was right for our patients and residents, and that’s what inspired me, day in and day out,” Kniffin said.
He concluded by thanking his administrative assistant, Susan Lapworth, and his spouse, Caryn Ethrigton.
“It really has been the greatest honor and privilege of my professional life,” Kniffin said of his presidency.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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