SVHC outlines plans to expand primary care availability in region


BENNINGTON -- Southwestern Vermont Health Care recently outlined a number of plans to expand access to primary care in the region.

Before a number of business leaders and other area professionals, representatives of Southwestern Vermont Health Care Foundation on May 15 described some new directions in which the foundation is headed.

Outlining these plans at a reception at SVMC were Thomas Dee, president and CEO of SVHC; Dr. Trey Dobson, SVMC's chief medical officer; Carol Conroy, chief nursing officer; and Dr. Orion Howard, medical director of Southwestern Vermont Regional Cancer.


"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 SVHC's partnership with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., which will enable a planned telemedicine initiative.

Also planned this year are an expansion of SVHC's Northshire Campus in Manchester that includes expanded waiting and reception areas, five additional exam rooms and a new high-tech communications conference room. This is set to be completed in July, Dee said.

Capacity has increased at SVMC's Deerfield Valley Campus in Wilmington, which is taking new patients.

In Bennington at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center there are plans to renovate the Medical Office Building and emergency department within about a two-year time period. In addition to expanding primary care practices to accept more patients, there will be additional ER psychiatric holding beds and expanded specialty practices.

On the horizon is the opening of a "same-day service" seven day walk-in clinic where "anyone can come in and see a primary care provider," Dee said.

The new clinic would not compete with the Bennington Free Clinic, he said.

"They would be continuing ... we support them financially," Dee said. "Same-day care would not solve the issue. We need to do both."

Physician recruitment

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

"That's more recruits than we've had for a very long time," Dobson said. "They couldn't have been recruited without Dartmouth-Hitchcock." He added that SVMC's next recruitment efforts would likely be in vascular surgery.

"We're really going to move into the 21st century, finally," Dobson said.

He noted that open positions are listed on the SVMC website,, as well as on the Dartmouth-Hitchcock site,

Top nursing talent

Similarly, SVMC has been successful in attracting and retaining 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.

"Research shows that patients who use magnet hospitals have better outcomes in various types of surgical complications," she said.

SVMC has been re-designated as a Magnet hospital three times since 2002, and this fall will be submitting an application for the fourth designation, Conroy said.


Howard, a medical oncologist at Southwestern Vermont Regional Cancer, said no cancer patient is seen by just one doctor.

"For the last four years we've been able to take any difficult case up to Dartmouth, but with TeleHealth will allows SVMC to tap into any ‘tumor board' ... virtually." The tumor boards are a sort of virtual panel discussion amongst a range of medical experts at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center and other sites in the region where physicians need not be in the same room to evaluate a patient.

Through telemedicine, which allows patients to visit with physicians live over video for immediate care, local patients have access to one of three National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers in the region.

According to Howard, the telemedicine program between SVMC and Dartmouth-Hitchcock will be and running in a couple of months. In the next two to three months SVHC will set up telemedicine suites in Bennington, Manchester and Wilmington that will allow patients and physicians to more easily connect with specialists at Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

Additionally, clinical trials are now being offered at SVHC that are made possible because of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock partnership.

"We can get research drugs for real use," Howard said. "Dartmouth-Hitchcock has fast-track access to clinical trial cancer drugs. As soon as telemedicine is up and running in a couple of months, we will have access to them."

When asked why it would take a few months to get telemedicine up to speed, Dobson responded, "The equipment is very cheap but it takes an organized effort on the part of those on the receiving end."

Here for Mass. patients as well

Dee acknowledged that the recent closing of North Adams Regional Hospital was "tragic for that community, which is sizable, to lose their hospital provider."

SVMC was able to respond quickly to offer emergency and other health care services to those who reside in northern Berkshire County.

He added, "Now we have 20 NARH employees here, and we're working to bring in some of their physicians now," he said. "We're here to try to help. We realize that we are a facility lending a helping hand."

He added that SVMC took all patients from NARH regardless of their ability to pay.

Dee said he expects most of the business SVMC gained from that event will be migrating back to Pittsfield. However, he noted, "people from North Adams who have been here have given high marks to the services."

Looking forward to centennial

SVHC plans to continue to strengthen its partnership with Dartmouth-Hitchcock and to create a comprehensive plan for fiscal year 2015 to guide the system toward its centennial.

"We're readjusting our budgets," Dee said. "The system as we know it is going to be retooled and it's going to look very different in a number of years. Let's focus on how we can make that transition. That's why we picked Dartmouth-Hitchcock" as a partner.

Contact Michelle Karas at or on Twitter @bannereditor.


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