SVMC officials get OK to start expansion plan


Thursday, June 5
MONTPELIER — Southwestern Vermont Medical Center officials received a favorable vote on Wednesday on a $50 million expansion proposal that they say is integral to the future of the hospital.

The officials were in the state capital to give a presentation to the state's Public Oversight Commission as part of the certificate of need approval process. Because of the scope of the project, two approval votes are needed: one to move forward with detailed planning and the other on the project itself.

SVMC President and CEO Harvey Yorke told the commission that the need for the project was dire indeed. "Hospitals are very, very dependent on facilities, technology and staff — without any one of them, a hospital is destined to fail," Yorke said. "Our hospital's facilities are 30, 40 and 80 years old. They should have been changed 10 years ago."

Time for 'major' renovation

Yorke said the hospital could be in jeopardy should the project not be approved. "I'm convinced that, within five or six years, we will lose our accreditation," Yorke said. "I don't think we will survive through the next decade without this project."

"This isn't about things that would be nice to have," Yorke added. "It's about continuing to have a hospital in Bennington."

Kevin McDonald, the hospital's vice president of planning and marketing, said the time had come for a major renovation. He said that the space for various departments in the hospital was woefully inadequate by current medical standards. For example, McDonald said, the Emergency Room would need to be 192 percent larger to meet standards.

"The root of our problem is that the existing hospital predates much of our medical technology," McDonald said. "We've been trying to retrofit, but we've reached the end of that ... we've pasted, patched and retrofit for years and years."

McDonald told the commission that the project is needed even though the area's population is not expected to rise dramatically. "We are not projected a lot of volume growth," McDonald said. "Our building is far too small for the volume we currently have."

Philip Miller, a consultant on the expansion, said that an increase in space was a necessity. "Some of these buildings are three or four building codes removed from current codes," Miller said. "The lack of space in several departments has caused SVMC to be challenged by accrediting organizations. They were able to grandfather us because we said, 'there's a plan coming.'"

The heads of the imaging, emergency, lab and pharmacy departments testified to the commission about facility issues throughout the hospital, claiming that hospital beds barely fit into certain rooms and that a lack of space has forced people and equipment into the hallways.

Dr. William Tock, the hospital's chairman of medicine, recounted a time in which he had to crawl over a bed and table to resuscitate a patient who had stopped breathing in one of the hospital's imaging rooms.

"I'll never forget that moment when I thought this woman is going to die because I can't get to her," Tock said. McDonald said that the proposed expansion would represent a substantial improvement.

Commission members said that the cramped conditions at the hospital surprised them.

"This comes to me almost as an expose that you'd see on '60 Minutes,'" said Henry Chauncey, a member of the commission. "This begs the question as to how things could have gotten this way."

The commission voted to recommend the commissioner of the Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration allow the hospital to spend $1.6 million to plan the expansion. After the planning is done, the hospital will return before the commission for a final review of the project.


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