Editor’s note: This is part of our Vermont Voices Series.
Now that the Green Mountain Care Board has signed off on a new independent surgery center after two years of push-back from the local health industry, HealthFirst executive director Amy Cooper spoke to True North about the long journey and what the approval means for health care in Vermont.
HealthFirst, an association of independent doctors, has been the driving force for the new surgery center in Colchester. The Green Mountain Care Board issued a certificate of need for the center in June, with all but one board member approving a need for affordable and accessible care.
The lone opposition vote, Con Hogan, said the center would fragment the state’s health system and increase costs. That sentiment was echoed by some in the regional health care industry, including the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems and the UVM Medical Center.
On the support side, numerous Vermont businesses stepped up with letters favoring the new Green Mountain Surgery Center. Among them were Burton Snowboards, Seventh Generation, Lake Champlain Chocolates, Blue Cross Blue Shield and MVP, among others.
True North Reports: What does this health center mean for Vermont’s health care industry? Will prices get more competitive now?
Cooper: Freestanding surgery centers that offer routine outpatient procedures at half the cost of hospitals are commonplace throughout the country. There are over 5,000 of them nationwide. By allowing the Green Mountain Surgery Center to open, Vermonters will finally gain access to a lower cost, patient-friendly option. I believe our center will encourage our local hospital in Burlington to lower their prices for routine procedures as well.
TNR: Describe the input coming from health care providers in the state.
Cooper: The local hospital has been pushing back heavily against opening of the new center so they may protect their monopoly status as the only provider of routine outpatient procedures in the entire Burlington metro area. On a state level, the Vermont Association of Hospitals & Health Systems opposed our application in front of the Green Mountain Care Board for two years before we were finally granted a certificate of need to begin operations.
TNR: What new or different services will this health center provide compared with existing services?
Cooper: The center will offer routine outpatient procedures such as colonoscopies, epidural injections, hernia repair, biopsies and other minor surgeries. The turnaround time for patients on the day of surgery is expected to be much quicker due to the efficiency of the center the and standardization of procedures. Wait times to schedule and complete routine outpatient procedures will also be greatly reduced.
TNR: What are the benefits for doctors and nurses to work here rather than elsewhere?
Cooper: Doctors and nurses who prefer to work in a smaller, more congenial environment may prefer to perform their cases at the surgery center rather than at the large academic hospital. Doctors and nurses who want their patients to have the option of lower-cost, high-quality services may prefer to utilize the center as well. We plan to employ a staff of 22 people, including mostly nurses, front office staff and a surgery center manager.