Health Care

UVM Medical Center seeks to build outpatient surgical center

The University of Vermont Medical Center’s Fanny Allen campus in Colchester on Tuesday, October 22, 2019. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Updated at 9:07 p.m.

The University of Vermont Medical Center hopes to replace operating rooms at the Fanny Allen campus with a new outpatient surgical center in South Burlington. 

UVM Medical Center filed a letter of intent with the Green Mountain Care Board on July 16. The board has the power of approval over all hospital construction projects estimated to cost $30 million or more. The board will determine whether the hospital can afford the construction. UVM Medical Center must also demonstrate that the project fulfills an actual health care need. 

History suggests the Green Mountain Care Board is likely to approve the project. It has denied only one such investment request since the board was founded 10 years ago. 

UVM Medical Center officials say the size and scope of the new surgical center is yet to be determined but estimate the planning process itself will cost nearly $5 million. The letter basically asks permission from the state agency to go ahead with more detailed project plans.

The new outpatient center would be on Tilley Drive in South Burlington, where UVM Medical Center already has several specialty clinics. 

UVM Medical Center’s lease on a seven-room operating facility at the Fanny Allen campus in Colchester runs until September 2026. However, those operating rooms have not been used since November 2020 because of air quality problems that made medical staff nauseous and dizzy. 

Neal Goswami, spokesperson for the medical center, said consultants were brought in to investigate what was making the staff sick, but they still haven’t found a conclusive explanation. 

The medical center’s letter states it had planned to “at least partially reopen these facilities in the near term,” but the age and design of the Fanny Allen facility make it unsuitable to do so. Surgeries such as joint replacements and spinal fusion, which can now be done as outpatient procedures, require large imaging equipment in the operating room as well as machinery to increase airflow and prevent infection. 

The hospital’s letter says these pieces don’t fit in Fanny Allen’s operating rooms, and the design cannot be fixed with renovations. 

Standalone surgical centers usually enable hospitals to do a higher volume of procedures at lower cost, said Elizabeth Munnich, an associate professor of economics at the University of Louisville. Most surgeries done at these centers are elective and planned, so they’re easier to schedule because there won’t be any interruptions from the hospital’s emergency room. 

Munnich said that, compared to surgeries done at the main hospital, “it’s almost always going to be cheaper from the patient’s perspective, in terms of that facility fee, to have the surgery done at a surgery center.” 

She said surgical centers are generally quite profitable for hospitals, too.

Goswami said the new construction would be paid for with capital funds but did not elaborate on where that funding would come from. Stephen Leffler, president and chief operating officer of the UVM Medical Center, was unavailable for comment before publication of this story. 

UVM Medical Center also plans to expand the emergency department, increase inpatient psychiatric beds, consolidate neonatal intensive care unit facilities and relocate certain specialty clinics. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated who was unavailable for comment. 

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Riley Robinson

About Riley

Riley Robinson is a general assignment and multimedia reporter, covering stories across the state in writing, photos and video. She is a graduate of Northeastern University's School of Journalism and first joined the Digger newsroom as a Dow Jones News Fund intern.

Email: [email protected]

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