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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Springfield Hospital Argues Against Additional Oversight In Bankruptcy Court

The exterior of Springfield Hospital, with a person walking toward the entrance carrying bags
Howard Weiss-Tisman
The federal government wants to appoint a patient care ombudsman to protect patients while Springfield Hospital is in Bankruptcy Court. The hospital opposes the move.

The federal government wants to appoint a patient care ombudsman to make sure healthcare services at Springfield Hospital and at the hospital’s 13 clinics are maintained while the organization works through the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process.But the hospital is asking the judge to allow the medical system to operate without the additional oversight.

Springfield Hospital and Springfield Medical Care Systems filed for bankruptcy on June 26, and the federal bankruptcy code requires the appointment of a patient care ombudsman unless the court finds it unnecessary.

An ombudsman would be responsible for assessing and monitoring the quality of patient care and ensuring that the health care services are delivered in a manner that does not compromise patient outcomes, regardless of financial pressures to cut expenses.

U.S. trustee William Harrington is representing the Department of Justice in the bankruptcy proceedings. Court papers filed this week said that Springfield Hospital and Springfield Medical Care Systems  terminated some services and cut some positions in an effort to save about $2.2 million from this year’s budget.

“It is unknown how these cuts will affect the debtor’s ability to provide quality patient care and maintain staffing,” Harrington wrote.

Harrington wants the judge to appoint an ombudsman in Springfield.

"As we're watching every penny, it would be a cost that we'd have to spend for that effort that we'd have to find from somewhere else." — Mike Halstead, Springfield Hospital interim CEO

If the judge agrees with Harington, it could cost Springfield Hospital up to $40,000 per month, which could amount up to "hundreds-of-thousands of dollars" while the case is proceeding, according to court records.

Springfield Hospital CEO Mike Halstead said that money should go toward patient care.

“As we’re watching every penny, it would be a cost that we’d have to spend for that effort that we’d have to find from somewhere else,” Halstead said in a phone interview.

In his testimony,Halstead said spending that money on an ombudsman “could risk pushing the case into administrative insolvency and imperil the approval of the plan.”

Halstead argued that the hospital and clinics are already subject to state and federal oversight, and he also said the hospital’s own internal patient care systems are in place.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services visited the hospital on July 9 and 10, and the federal regulators found zero deficiencies, Halstead said.

Halstead also pointed out that the bankruptcy had nothing to do with patient care issues and that staff cuts or operational changes did not affect services.

“From the very beginning, when we took a look at staffing, we focused in on the non-patient care areas,” Halstead said. “We wanted to make sure that we did not compromise the quality of the care and the safety of the care that we were providing.”

There are about 335 employees at the hospital, and another 219 people work in the hospital’s 13 clinics.

A hearing is scheduled for Friday in the U.S. Courthouse in Rutland. A decision on appointing the ombudsman is expected before the end of this month.

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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