Porter prioritizes new services, building in 5-year plan


PORTER PLANT OPERATIONS Director Doug Frary, center, inspects the new Porter Hospital front entrance and ramp with architect Ashar Nelson. The new entrance and ramp opened and were available for use late last week. Photo courtesy of Ronald G. Hallman

PORTER PRESIDENT SELEEM Choudhury addresses staff and volunteers at the ribbon-cutting event for the new hospital entrance on Monday. Photo courtesy of Ronald G. Hallman
The network has a goal of trying to get patients, 80 percent of the time, seen within two weeks. We’re now at 60 percent, so we’re falling short of that goal. So we need to get our patients in. — Porter President Dr. Seleem Choudhury

MIDDLEBURY — Porter Medical Center leaders have drafted a five-year vision for the county’s hospital that among other things calls for new services, including women’s breast care and a pain clinic, a new medical office building, and a concerted effort to attract and retain workers in what is a particularly challenging labor market.

Dr. Seleem Choudhury, Porter president, discussed the strategic plan and his organizational aspirations during a Monday interview with the Independent.

It’s a potentially transformational time for Porter Medical Center, which encompasses the hospital, Helen Porter Rehab & Nursing, and around a dozen affiliated provider practices.

Choudhury took the helm of PMC this past spring and he’ll be guiding the institution through a new era of “population health” that places a premium on strategies for keeping patients healthy so they’re less apt to need invasive care later in life.

Choudhury also joins a PMC that is 60 days from launching a new “Epic” electronic health records system that is intended to dramatically enhance the organization’s ability to access patients’ information and deliver them to the special services they might require.

Porter also finds itself well positioned to leverage amenities and programs as a new affiliate of the University of Vermont Health Network.

And Choudhury confirmed Porter is officially seeking permission for a $30 million medical office building on its campus. It’s one of many capital requests filed by Porter and six other affiliates of the network, which includes health care organizations in Vermont and upstate New York.

“Next week we, along with the executive leaders of the network, will prioritize what’s going to happen and what’s not going to happen for the next five years,” he said of the mix of project requests. “I’m quietly confident (of gaining approval for the new building).”

Porter officials believe they’ve made a good case for the new facility.

“The campus is really nice here, but it’s showing its age; we need some investment,” Choudhury said. “Our employees are working very hard, but they’re sharing so many small spaces. When we talk about attracting and retaining employees, the environment in which you work is so important.”

The hospital is currently employing four traveling nurses to fill critical positions that have gone unfilled. Travellers are a more costly expense for a hospital.

A check of the PMC website on Wednesday revealed 61 full-, part-time and per diem job openings covering all sectors, including nursing (16 vacancies); geriatric aids, medical assistants and Licensed Nursing Assistants (13); and environmental services and housekeeping (eight).

The hospital on Monday held an orientation session for 11 recent hires.

Choudhury said he’s committed to providing more incentives for applicants to choose Porter.

“During the next couple of years, I want to ask (for Porter Medical Center) to have the same benefits as UVM Medical Center,” he said.

Other perks, according to Choudhury, could include tuition reimbursement, education grants and scholarships.

“Those are things I’d like to see us do during the next several years,” he said, adding these are things PMC should consider independent of contract negotiations.

“Obviously, we want to work in partnership with the union, but I’m a firm believer in trying to bring something on that we feel should be done, rather than bringing stuff on because we’re told to do it,” Choudhury said.

He realizes Porter must compete with many other health care organizations for a limited pool of candidates.

“It’s a zero-sum game,” he said. “If we hire a dietician, then somebody’s lost that dietician. If we hire an RN, someone else has lost that RN. We’re constantly vying for people. If we don’t offer the right experience to our employees, if we’re not competitive with our salaries and have really good benefits, then people go somewhere else.”

Still, Choudhury is excited about PMC’s future, one he said will soon feature new services. For example, Porter officials want to build upon current orthopedics offerings, while exploring breast care and pain clinic programs. Again, the philosophy is for PMC to use its UVM Health Network affiliation to gain resources that will keep Addison County patients closer to home.

“I’m hoping we can see some of this (new programming) come to fruition during the next 12 to 18 months,” Choudhury said. “Women’s health is a huge thing for us here. We’ve already got many of the important ingredients. We’ve got fabulous OB-GYN, fabulous general surgeons who are already skilled in (those services), so we just need to add a few pieces and we’ll have a very competitive program here.”

During recent discussions with UVM Medical Center officials, Choudhury said he’s learned of “a couple of pain doctors who are interested in moving their services to PMC.”

Offering such services with the coordination of Epic software will create better patient experiences, Choudhury believes. It’s a system that is intended to ensure services through the UVM Health Network are used to their full potential.

“When we go live with Epic, that will allow us to be able to use the entire network,” he said. “So if there’s someone in Chittenden County who wants to see an ENT, they will get a choice between seeing someone at UVM Medical Center — which right now has a four to six week wait — or they can come to Addison County and be seen by our ENT this week. The idea is that you’re giving people a choice. Obviously there’s some distance to travel, but people can then have a choice to say, ‘Look, I want to see an ENT now,’ or they can wait and see the UVM practitioner. And it works the other way around; if we can’t get someone into orthopedics here, for example, then they can see an orthopedic surgeon at Central Vermont Medical Center.

“That’s what we’re pushing for — to get people access based on availability within the network, and using the huge resources of the network,” Choudhury stressed.

Improving patient access will save money in the long run, according to Choudhury.

“The network has a goal of trying to get patients, 80 percent of the time, seen within two weeks,” he said. “We’re now at 60 percent, so we’re falling short of that goal. So we need to get our patients in. And the idea is that if you get your patients in to primary care or general surgery … you’re lowering the cost of care because they’re not having to go to the emergency department, or go to urgent care. What we’re trying to do is improve access.”

Choudhury promised Porter will become more active outside of its South Street campus. For example, a partnership with Middlebury College is also in the offing through which students will research such topics as, “Does Addison County need mobile clinics?”

“We’re already working with Green Mountain Health, with the Counseling Service of Addison County, the Vermont Department of Health and other agencies to see what else we can do to improve our population health,” Choudhury said.

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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