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

Fletcher Allen Hopes New Building Will Give Patients Privacy

Toby Talbot
Fletcher Allen Health Care, here in this 2007 file photo, will undergo construction of new facilities in order to retire some of its older, outdated lodgings.

Dave Keelty is the director of facilities planning and development at Fletcher Allen Health Care. And he’s taken a break on this sunny Monday morning to survey the future site of what he hopes will become next great project.

“What we’re looking at is the west side of our ambulatory care facility,” Keelty says. “Most people would recognize it with the emergency room parking lot, and the entrance to the emergency room directly in front of us.”

If all goes according to plan, the ground Keelty is standing on will be covered by a seven-story building with single-occupancy rooms for 128 patients. The $187 million project is the highest-dollar capital improvement proposal to come before a new board of health care regulators.

The new construction wouldn’t add to the total inpatient capacity at Fletcher Allen, which would remain at about 450 beds. Rather it would allow the institution to retire some of its older, outdated lodgings, and to spare their clients from having roommates. 

“And also a major goal is to move us from roughly 30 percent private rooms to get us up more toward 90 percent,” Keelty says.

The new construction wouldn't add to the total inpatient capacity at Fletcher Allen, which would remain at about 450 beds. Rather, it would allow the institution to retire some of its older, outdated lodgings, and to spare their clients from having roommates.

But the upgrade won’t come cheap. Fletcher Allen is asking the Green Mountain Care Board to approve the $187 million price tag attached to the project.

Judy Henkin, director of health policy for the Green Mountain Care Board, which has broad authority over budgeting and operations at the state’s 14 hospitals. The board was created to streamline the state’s health care system, and Henkins says its members will bring a critical eye to the proposal.

“I think that the lens they look through things is with an eye to the future,” Henkin says. “And it is a system wide view, as opposed to hospital by hospital, or piece by piece.”

Statute, according to Henkin, requires the board to use several criteria to evaluate the proposal. 

“Need, of course. Project costs. How it affects the system. Whether it’ll improve … the quality of health care. Whether it’ll affect existing services,” she says. “So a big project like this, the board’s got quite a bit of work to do to go through the application and make sure all the criteria are met.”

Keelty says the project is about more than comfort, or bringing a four-star experience to the hospital’s temporary guests. He says blueprints designed to allow for more sunlight, stringent infection control, and space for visiting family will all contribute to patient outcomes. 

“So many studies indicate the quality of the environment does impact the length of stay,” Keelty says.

Vermont stands on the brink of what could be watershed reforms in its health care system – Gov. Peter Shumlin next year will urge lawmakers to adopt the nation’s first single-payer financing program.

But Keelty says the project has been designed to meet the needs of whatever the next chapter in health care reform brings.

“They’re being built in such a way to maintain the maximum amount of flexibility that’s needed to basically react to changes in how health care is being delivered,” Keelty says.

Fletcher Allen will submit final cost estimates to the board in November.

The project would be the largest at Fletcher Allen since 2005, when it completed work on an ambulatory care facility that cost $380 million. Hospital officials say the project would add about $16 million in annual operating costs when completed – about 1.5 percent of Fletcher Allen’s yearly budget.