With the recent closing of North Adams Regional Hospital, it is perhaps more apparent then ever how vital a local hospital is to a community.

Here in Bennington, Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, with roughly 1,300 employees is the town’s largest employer and the seventh largest employer in the state.

In an announcement fitting for National Hospital Week, Thomas Dee, president and CEO of Southwestern Vermont Health Care, presented on Thursday evening the outline of a plan to expand access to primary care in the region.

Dee -- along with SVMC’s chief medical officer, Dr. Trey Dobsen; Chief Nursing Officer Carol Conroy; and Dr. Orion Howard, medical director of Southwestern Vermont Regional Cancer Center -- described several upcoming initiatives that will enhance healthcare options in the Bennington area.

The Banner will go into more detail on these announcements in a future article, but for now, here are some of the highlights of the evening presentation in SVMC’s conference dining area, attended by about 40 local businesspeople as well as hospital personnel.

Dee described a number ways SVHC plans to expand primary care in the area.

These include expanding the Northshire Medical campus in Manchester Center, opening a "same-day service" seven-day walk-in clinic at SVMC, moving the Deerfield Valley Health Center in Wilmington to a new location, recruitment of physicians with diverse specialties as well as needed primary care doctors, and incorporating telemedicine into local offerings.

"SVHC is a great system, but we’re nowhere near large enough or strong enough to do things on our own -- we need partnership," Dee said of the SVHC partnership with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., which will enable the telemedicine initiative.

Dee acknowledged that the closing of the North Adams hospital was "tragic" for that community.

"Now we have 20 NARH employees here, and we’re working to bring in some of their physicians now," he said.

Dobson added that 10 new providers have been recruited to join the SVMC ranks in previously challenging-to-fill areas including oncology, dermatology and obstetrics/gynecology.

"That’s more recruits than we’ve had for a very long time," Dobson said.

Similarly, SVMC has been able to attract and retain top nursing talent, Conroy said, due in no small part to the fact that the hospital became the first Magnet program for nursing excellence designee in the state of Vermont in 2002.

Howard, a medical oncologist, described how the telemedicine partnership with Dartmouth-Hitchcock will allow SVMC to tap into any "tumor board" -- a sort of virtual panel discussion amongst medical experts at DH. He said the telemedicine program is set to be up and running in a couple of months. SVHC will set up telemedicine suites in Bennington, Manchester and Wilmington so patients and doctors may easily connect with Dartmouth-Hitchcock specialists.

All of these local initiatives aim to improve the quality of health care available in our community.

"National Hospital Week is an opportunity to thank the dedicated Vermonters -- physicians, nurses, therapists, engineers, food service workers, volunteers, administrators and so many more -- for their commitment to healthy, vibrant communities," said Barry Lampke, director of external affairs for the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, in a release.

Per VAHHS 13,800 jobs -- excluding employed physicians -- are created by Vermont’s hospitals, and every job created in a hospital supports another job in the community such as accountants and food vendors.

"When these indirect jobs are included, hospital activity creates almost 23,000 jobs," states the release.

The Commonwealth Fund recently named Vermont as one of the top ranking states for improving health care access, quality, outcomes and lowering costs.

Here in the Bennington area, our local hospital system is taking strides to do all those things in our community.

~Michelle Karas