Wednesday July 10, 2013

BENNINGTON -- The American Hospital Association honored the leader of the local health care system for his work in restoring a federal program that assists hospitals dependent on Medicare payments, work that is continuing this year as the program is up again for approval.

Thomas Dee, president and CEO of Southwestern Vermont Health Care, was presented in April with a Grassroots Champion Award from the American Hospital Association.

Dee received the award for his aid in getting support for the continuation of the Medicare Dependent Hospital program which assists hospitals that have incomes largely tied to Medicare payments. Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, which is part of SVHC, is such a hospital, along with Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. The aid program was defunded by the Affordable Care Act, but Congress voted to renew its funding for another year. Come September, according to SVHC officials, the hospital could lose $2 million in revenue. This is on top of the approximately $1 million lost to the federal sequester.

"Taken together, these cuts represent the better part of our operating margin," Dee said. "We budget for a $4 million operating margin to allow us to invest in new equipment, train our staff, and maintain our buildings. Losing three-fourths of the margin is a huge, huge blow. Losing this funding will have an impact on the services that SVMC can provide as well as our levels of staffing."

Last month, Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.


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, visited the local hospital to talk about the bill he is co-sponsoring that would restore the program for another year. He said he is currently seeking support for the bill which received strong bipartisan support the last time, but given the climate of disagreement in Congress nothing is guaranteed.

"It's obvious to me that the members of Congress who represent our communities care a great deal about ensuring our health system continues to provide outstanding care," said Dee in a release. "They all stood behind SVHC last year, and are doing so again."

Senators Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., have both co-signed Senate versions of the bill as well.

Dee said he was grateful to legislators who supported the bill.

"Support for this legislation crosses party lines," he said. "Both the House and Senate have Republican and Democratic lead sponsors, and Medicare dependent hospitals exist throughout the county in red and blue states and congressional districts. As a hospital CEO, I am grateful for support this issue has right here in our own region. Our senators and our representatives are truly looking out for the best interests of our health system and the people we serve."