UVM Medical Center Seeks Green Light to Build Surgery Center | Health Care | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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UVM Medical Center Seeks Green Light to Build Surgery Center


Published February 10, 2023 at 3:39 p.m.

University of Vermont Medical Center - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • University of Vermont Medical Center
The University of Vermont Medical Center has asked state regulators for permission to break ground on a new $130 million outpatient surgery facility that would allow it perform at least 3,000 more procedures each year.

The 85,000-square-foot facility would be located at the Tilley Drive complex in South Burlington and would allow the medical center to shift outpatient procedures away from the aging Fanny Allen campus, which hospital leaders say has long been overbooked and under-maintained.

On Friday, the UVM Health Network submitted a certificate-of-need application to the Green Mountain Care Board, whose approval is needed for any large hospital expenditures. Network leaders told reporters that the expansion would reduce surgical backlogs and better prepare the hospital to serve an aging and growing population.

"Our surgery volume at both the main campus and the Fanny Allen campus is full most of the time," said Dr. Stephen Leffler, the Burlington hospital's president and chief operating officer. He cited data showing that the number of people over age 65 in Chittenden County is expected to grow by 50 percent by 2030. "Those people need surgeries."
UVM Health Network leaders first pitched the surgical center proposal in fall 2021, asking the Green Mountain Care Board to begin a $5 million planning process. Regulators approved the request despite concerns from the UVM nurses union, which argued that the expansion would exacerbate the current workforce crisis and jeopardize the quality of care.

A large budget deficit prevented the hospital from moving forward with the project last year, Leffler said. But after a "careful review," network leaders have decided now's the time.

"We really can't afford to wait," said Sunny Eappen, the network's CEO.

Demand for outpatient surgeries is growing nationally, and by 2030, the hospital will need to perform 5,000 more operations than it can currently handle, according to Eappen, threatening to lengthen wait times even further.

Outpatient surgeries also tend to be lucrative, and the network's plan to return to solid financial footing relies in part on its ability to get patients in and out the door quicker.

"We can't treat this and other related access and quality initiatives as an 'either or' with our immediate financial improvement plans," Eappen said. "We really have to try to do both and, whenever possible, connect the two."

Network leaders have cited a similar rationale for why they are investing in a pair of employee housing projects now under way.

The new center would have space for a dozen operating rooms, though only eight would be built out initially. Upon opening, it would be able to perform 8,000 surgeries per year, far more than the 5,000 now performed at Fanny Allen. Network leaders said they also hope to shift more outpatient surgeries away from the main hospital campus so that those rooms can be used for more complex cases.

Should regulators sign off on the new center, it could be up and running within two years, according to network leaders. They would then need to tackle another challenge: keeping the center staffed.
The hospital is still employing hundreds of temporary workers just to keep its doors open, and roughly half of the 166 people needed to staff the surgical center are expected to be new hires.

"We are very confident that we'll be able to recruit people that want to work in a brand-new, cutting-edge, state-of-the-art, efficient facility," Leffler said. 

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