Friday July 12, 2013

KEITH WHITCOMB JR.

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- The local cancer center is now able to serve more patients at a time, and has hired a new radiation oncologist.

By the end of this month, Dr. Matthew Vernon will have joined the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Putnam Physicians at the Southwestern Vermont Regional Cancer Center. He will work in a department that has recently doubled its capacity by adding two more examination rooms that can also be used to administer chemotherapy, said Kevin Robinson, spokesman for Southwestern Vermont Health Care, the cancer center’s parent company.

Robinson said the physical expansion is not terribly large, but does include some new equipment. The work began in April and is largely complete. The total cost of the project was $65,000.

"We’ve needed to do this work, unfortunately regardless of what happens with Medicare payments," he said. "We can’t not upgrade our facilities to provide top quality care for folks."

Because of the federal sequester the hospital will see a $1 million loss to its income, and if Congress does not vote to fund a program that helps Medicare dependent hospitals, it may see a loss of another $2 million. According to SVHC President and CEO Thomas Dee, such a loss would largely eliminate the hospital’s profit margin, which it needs to maintain the services it offers.

Robinson said the rates of cancer go up for a population the older that population becomes.


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Bennington County is one of the oldest areas, in terms of people, in the state, so there is more demand for local cancer treatment. He said the cancer center also expects to see more people from the fringes of its service area, where the drive to Bennington is equal to larger medical centers elsewhere.

He said besides Vernon, the center plans to hire another medical provider, possible a physician assistant or a nurse.

"We are thrilled to have Dr. Vernon join our cancer treatment team," said Dr. Orion Howard, medical director of SVRCC, in a statement. "He brings a strong clinical background, and his connections with other experts at Dartmouth-Hitchcock will give patients in our area additional treatment flexibility."

The Dartmouth-Hitchcock Putnam Physicians is the medical group created from a partnership SVHC entered with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, a renowned academic medical system based in Lebanon, N.H. Most of SVHC’s doctors and some support staff became Dartmouth-Hitchcock employees and remain working at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. The hospital is able to draw on Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s resources as well as better attract new doctors.

Vernon has an undergraduate degree in chemistry from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. "I decided to go to medical school to combine my love for science with my desire to make a difference in people’s lives," he said in a release. "I enjoy the real-life application of science that medicine involves."

He went to medical school at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee while his residency in radiation oncology was completed at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Therapeutic Radiology. "Radiation oncology is exactly what I was looking for," Vernon said. "It is rewarding to me to know that I can use my scientific knowledge to help someone with a serious disease, such as cancer, heal."

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.