Porter Medical Center in Middlebury could join the University of Vermont Health Network as soon as next spring.
The hospital’s board of directors voted Oct. 5 to sign a letter of intent to formally negotiate an affiliation with the health system, the hospital said Monday.
The UVM Health Network, formerly Fletcher Allen Partners, is the largest hospital system in the state. Porter would be the sixth hospital to join the network and the third in Vermont.
Porter is a small rural hospital, comparable in size to Copley Hospital, and is about halfway between Rutland and Burlington. With 25 beds and annual revenue from patient care of around $75 million, it would be the smallest Vermont hospital affiliated with the health network.
The other two Vermont hospitals in the network are the UVM Medical Center in Burlington, which has 392 beds and receives roughly $1.2 billion annually from patient care, and Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin, which has 90 beds and receives about $174 million annually from patient care.
Porter said in a news release that the letter of intent is nonbinding but sets in motion a six-month process for affiliating with the hospital system, during which Porter will retain the option to choose to remain independent.
If the affiliation goes through, Porter would remain a free-standing hospital with an independent board, but the board would report to the umbrella health network’s board, and the health network would have to approve the hospital’s budget.
Porter has had financial and management challenges going back years, including a bumpy rollout of a new electronic medical records system across the whole campus. Through fiscal year 2015, the hospital posted operating losses for five of six years.
The hospital hired a new chief executive officer, Lynn Boggs, in April 2015, and she abruptly resigned after making controversial personnel cuts. The interim CEO, Dr. Fred Kniffin, has been named her permanent replacement.
Ron Hallman, the spokesperson for Porter Medical Center, said the health network may allow Porter to use its proprietary electronic medical records system and is talking about designing and building a new medical building for Porter.
“I think we’re all feeling like this has been a very positive process so far, and it really feels as if there’s going to be great opportunities for us to serve our communities even better,” Hallman said.
He said Porter would continue to offer all of the same health services that it currently does, but the affiliation may “strengthen Porter’s ability to serve our community and improve and build upon the patient care services that we already offer.”