Financially beleaguered Northwestern Medical Center will close its addiction recovery program to cut costs.
The St. Albans hospital announced Tuesday that it will shutter Northwestern Partners in Hope and Recovery, which provided medication-assisted treatment to about 400 people.
The Howard Center will expand services in the area to fill the gap. The Burlington-based organization, which already runs a public inebriate program and counseling services in St. Albans, will start providing medication assisted treatment by the time NPHR closes at the end of the month.
“We have a good handle on the needs of our clients and how to serve them well,” said spokesperson Adam Brooks.
NMC spokesperson Jonathan Billings said the closure of the clinic was “a necessary step” for the financial viability of the hospital. Northwestern Partners in Hope and Recovery lost money. Closing the program will save NMC about $500,000 a year, he said. The hospital will also close an outpatient neurology clinic, Billing said.
Achieving financial sustainability “is not easy, and this is one of the difficult parts of it,” he said. “We have to return our focus to become a small community hospital.”
It’s the latest cut to a hospital struggling to regain its footing after a series of financial losses.
In April, the St. Albans hospital asked the Green Mountain Care Board for a 15% rate increase to cover pre-Covid expenses, including higher-than-expected expenses for traveling nurses and an electronic health records system. Board members roundly rejected the request. They said it was poorly researched and the costs would ultimately be passed onto Vermonters in the form of insurance premiums.
At the time, hospital officials said they expected to end the fiscal year $9.6 million in the red — even before the pandemic and associated financial impacts. The losses have worsened since Covid. Cancelled appointments and postponed elective procedures have caused financial hardship at hospitals around the state.
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Even before officials at Northwestern were aware of the full extent of the lost revenue, hospital officials released a cost-savings plan earlier this spring that included cutting funds to community wellness programs, halting renovation plans, prioritizing telemedicine, and adjusting employee pay and benefits to reduce staff turnover.
In May, NMC offered severance packages to 47 employees who agreed to take voluntary layoffs. This month, seven staff members at Northwestern Partners in Hope and Recovery will lose their jobs. Brooks said the Howard Center would hire three to five new employees and consider applications from the clinic’s current staff.
The Howard Center, which already provides medication assisted treatment at Safe Harbor in Burlington, will provide the increased services at an existing location at 172 Fairfield Street. The organization will offer individual and group therapy, care coordination and suboxone prescriptions, Brooks said.
For now, the organization has also set up a hotline to answer questions and help patients get the services they need.
“We’re there for them in Burlington, and we’ll be there for them in Franklin and Grand Isle counties,” Brooks said.
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