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

Springfield Hospital Looks To Sever Ties With Clinics In Bankruptcy Plan

A person sits in a chair in an exam room while a doctor listens.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
Neil Mallan, left, of Saxtons River talks with Dr. Scott Durgin at the Springfield Health Center. Springfield Hospital will cut its ties with nine health clinics as part of the hospital's bankruptcy plan.

Springfield Hospital will likely cut ties with nine health clinics throughout the region as part of its bankruptcy plan.The clinics in Springfield, Londonderry, Ludlow, Chester, Rockingham and in Charlestown, New Hampshire are currently part of Springfield Medical Care Systems, and they are tied to Springfield Hospital.

But Springfield Hospital is working to become part of a three-hospital system with Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center in Windsor and with Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont, New Hampshire. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center would likely oversee the new organization.

More from VPR: Vermont's Springfield Hospital Files For Bankruptcy [June 27, 2019]

Springfield Medical Care Systems CEO Josh Dufresne said the clinics cannot remain tied to Springfield Hospital under the proposed three-hospital partnership.

“As we’re looking to split these two companies apart and be completely independent, we have to make sure that the right services stay within the right company,” Dufresne said.

In the clinic

Neil Mallan, 50, lives in Saxtons River and goes to the Rockingham Health Center in Bellows Falls. His doctor there got Mallan enrolled in the lifestyle medicine program, which is run out of the Springfield Health Center, one of the clinics in the system.

The lifestyle medicine program stresses diet, exercise and mental health to address chronic health issues, and Mallan said the connection between the clinics led to dramatic improvements in his health.

“It has changed my life in a sense that I have a little bit more self-esteem. I feel better,” Mallan said. “I have big plans to see my grandchildren grow up and to be able to be active during that period of time. And it’s just been great for not only me but for the whole family.”

More from VPR: Green Mountain Care Board Pushes Sustainability As Rural Hospitals Struggle [Oct. 15, 2019]

Since April, Mallan has lost 50 pounds, and he’s no longer taking diabetes or cholesterol medication.

Dr. Scott Durgin leads the wellness program at the Springfield clinics and he said healthcare services in small rural towns have to be aligned within a larger system to better serve people who live far from population centers.

“When I’m working in Ludlow, there are certainly patients that I see there that can’t go anywhere else, they’re just going to be able to see a provider in Ludlow," Durgin said. "And I think the same goes for Springfield, and Londonderry and Charlestown. And I think that provides a much better service for those that need it the most."

'It's uncertain right now'

This model, of having a hospital coordinate healthcare services in rural communities, has been happening more frequently as primary doctors struggle to keep their practices open.

Dufresne, the Springfield Medical Care Systems CEO, said the clinics lost $2.5 million in 2018 and will have to submit a separate plan to the bankruptcy court. And that could mean consolidation, or closure, among the many services the clinics now offer.

“And what we’re doing right now is meeting internally with each one of the departments," he said. "We do feel it’s key that those department folks know what’s going on prior to having community dialogue or press releases or those type of activities."

The medical offices offer dental, and eye care, mental health support, general medicine, and even child care at two sites. And Dufresne said in a sparsely populated region like southern Vermont, the model’s just not working.

More from VPR: As Losses Mount, Some Hospitals Request Steep Rate Increases [Aug. 1, 2019]

“Where we went astray a bit is we started to become everything to everyone,” he said. “And we started to do services, maybe broader services, than what we probably should have focused on. And do we continue that? It’s uncertain right now.”

Once the bankruptcy plan is finished for the medical care system, community meetings will be held to discuss how the changes might affect the region.

Springfield Hospital will submit its bankruptcy plan to the court in early spring.

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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