State regulators have granted the University of Vermont Medical Center permission to begin planning its proposed outpatient surgery facility, overriding concerns raised by frontline workers about whether the hospital can adequately staff the expansion.
The hospital was required to seek this initial level of approval, known as a "conceptual" certificate of need, because the proposed facility is expected to cost more than $30 million. The hospital must still return for final approval before it can break ground on the project.
UVM Medical Center leaders have said the new facility would replace the shuttered seven-room outpatient facility at Fanny Allen, address existing surgical backlogs and meet future demand.
Determining that the project appeared to meet an "existing or anticipated need," the Green Mountain Care Board announced Monday that it was approving the hospital's request to spend up to $5 million on planning and designing the proposed facility.
The decision was a disappointment to the Vermont Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals, which represents 2,400 hospital employees and had hoped to formally weigh in on the proposal. In a letter to the care board last week, union president Deb Snell questioned whether the hospital should be allowed to expand while its leaders are “unable and unwilling” to safely staff existing operations.
If the hospital is allowed to build the new surgical center without first fixing its staffing shortages, then the current workforce crisis will only worsen, she wrote.
“Our members, more than Hospital executives, are undeniably the best voices to weigh in on safe staffing levels for current and future UVMMC patient population and whether this project will serve the public good,” Snell wrote.
The care board denied the request, noting that while it sympathizes with staffing concerns, it was not convinced that the initial planning efforts would dramatically impact employees. The board instead ordered the hospital to include staffing projections in its next proposal and “consult” with the union prior to finalizing any plan.
"We will hold UVMMC to this commitment," the board wrote.
Snell said the union would, too.
"We will do our best to hold the Green Mountain Care Board and the hospital accountable for this staffing plan," she said.