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Springfield Medical Care Systems CEO Resigns



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Springfield, Vt. — The CEO of the beleaguered nonprofit health care system that includes Springfield Hospital resigned on Wednesday morning, effective immediately.

The Springfield Medical Care Systems Board of Directors accepted the resignation of Tim Ford, according to a news release on Wednesday.

“This is an important time as we take a closer look at our health system’s operations and long-term needs to ensure we are positioned to serve the community well into the future,” board Chairman George Lamb said in the release. “A new leadership team will provide stability and a fresh perspective as we continue this process.”

The leadership change comes as the health system faces financial struggles and low employee morale. In an August filing with the Green Mountain Care Board, which regulates hospital budgets, SMCS administrators said they were projecting a $2.5 million deficit for the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30. That loss would come following a loss of $3.8 million in 2017. Audited 2018 financials should be available early next year.

In his departure, Ford, who led the health system — which also includes health centers in Charlestown and the Vermont communities of Ludlow, Rockingham and Springfield — for the past five years, follows former CFO Scott Whittemore, who left last week. In 2015, Ford earned $265,000 and Whittemore earned $150,000 in total compensation, according to SMCS’s 990 tax filing.

Chief of Practice Operations Josh Dufresne, who according to his LinkedIn profile holds a Master of Business Administration from Franklin Pierce University and a bachelor’s degree from Johnson State College, will serve as the system’s primary administrative contact until an interim CEO and CFO are named, according to the release.

In a report Springfield Hospital officials provided to the Green Mountain Care Board last week, they attributed their financial challenges to higher-than-expected costs for employee benefits and temporary providers. In addition, they said the hospital is experiencing a delay in Medicare payment. Springfield Hospital officials also previously have cited their “difficult payer mix (and) challenging demographics.”

Green Mountain Chairman Kevin Mullin said in a Wednesday phone interview that he was a bit surprised at Ford’s departure. But he said he had spoken with Lamb and was confident the hospital board is “moving in the right direction.”

Mullin said he expects to meet with Lamb and the hospital’s attorney on Monday.

In some ways, Mullin said, the turmoil can be seen as an opportunity for change.

“When you have a situation like this where there clearly is trouble, I think people rally together more,” he said.

He compared the situation in Springfield to the difficulties Porter Medical Center in Middlebury, Vt., faced before it became a member of the University of Vermont Health Network in 2017.

As a result of financial difficulties at Porter, Mullin said, the community worked together to save it. Merging with a larger system such as UVM is something that Mullin said ought to be explored by SMCS’s board.

“I’m not sure it’s the right solution in this case,” he said, but he added that he thinks the board is receptive to it and to other ideas.

Efforts to reach Lamb, a longtime attorney in Springfield, via email on Wednesday were not successful. SMCS spokeswoman Anna Smith said officials had no comment beyond the news release.

More broadly, the challenges SMCS faces give officials the chance to do some strategic planning, Mullin said.

SMCS is working with Quorum Health Resources to evaluate the organization’s operations, finances and strategy, Smith said last week. She expected a report would be available in February or March. Quorum also will help in recruiting an interim CEO and CFO, according to Wednesday’s press release.

“If anybody can help them, they will,” Mullin said of Quorum, a Tennessee-based health care consulting firm, which specializes in non-urban hospitals and health systems.

For his part, Mullin said he hopes that in the future the GMCB will be better informed when hospitals are struggling.

“The picture was painted to be a little bit more rosier than it actually was,” he said.

Some community members, however, have been expressing their concerns for months.

Some attended a public meeting held by the board of trustees last month to voice their worries on a range of subjects, including the hospital’s decision to award its emergency department contract to the Brunswick, Maine-based BlueWater Emergency Partners over the Chester, Vt.-based Emergency Services of New England, or ESNE, that has provided the service for 40 years.

Other community members have said employee morale is so low that some are leaving or have left and that the hospital is behind in payments to vendors.

Several observers attributed the hospital’s problems to management and said that they’re hopeful that leadership changes will make the difference needed to improve the situation.

John Bond, a retired physician assistant who was a co-owner of ESNE, said in a phone interview last week that in his 40 years in Springfield, “this administration is the worst that I’ve seen.”

The hospital system was behind in payments to vendors, including ESNE. ESNE is owed a six-figure balance as the end of the year approaches, ESNE President Cary Stratford said in an email on Wednesday.

The CEO’s departure is a start, but “more needs to be done,” Bond said on Wednesday.

Josh Rosenblum, a South Londonderry, Vt., resident who joined ESNE as a physician assistant in 2012, said on Wednesday that he was glad for the change of leadership but worried that it was too late for him and his ESNE colleagues, as well as members of the hospital staff that have opted to leave during the turmoil.

“I really hope the board of the hospital is starting to see what we’ve been trying to tell them for the past few months now,” Rosenblum said.

SMCS sent ESNE a termination letter in October. BlueWater is set to take over in April.

BlueWater CEO Jay Mullen said his company is unfazed by the leadership change.

“BlueWater remains committed to Springfield Hospital and the Springfield community,” he said in an email. “We look forward to continuing to work with hospital leadership as we learn more about the challenges they face and how we can help them overcome those challenges.”

Springfield Selectman Peter MacGillivray, who also sits on a hospital development committee, said he is optimistic that the departures of the CFO and CEO will make a difference.

He has “a lot of faith in the people that are on the board of the hospital,” he said in a Wednesday phone interview.

The hospital, which employs about 770 people, is an important part of the community, MacGillvray said.

“I’m very optimistic that the board is going to move forward and this, too, shall pass,” he said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.