Proposed deed change may allow growth on hospital campus
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | February 16,2013
BENNINGTON — The Select Board indicated this week that its members will support changes to deeds that would allow it to control the land where Southwestern Vermont Medical Center is located so local health care officials could develop its infrastructure and better serve the community.
Thomas Dee, the CEO of Southwestern Vermont Health Care, said the desire to make a change to the deeds of trust came about after the hospital considered an overall upgrade. After some consideration of the future of health care, that plan is now focused on modernizing the 55,000-square-foot medical office building.
The cost of the project is a concern, according to Dee, and the health care system’s board of directors is considering ways to underwrite it.
“What we’re trying to do through the modification of the deeds of gift is to create more flexibility for our health care system that in the event we need to go towards partnering on financing and owning some buildings we have some more capability to do that, still with the oversight of the town board in terms of any actions that we take,” he said.
The deeds of trust were created for the will of Henry W. Putnam about 100 years ago. They made the town the trustee of some of the lands of what was then the Henry W. Putnam Memorial Hospital and required the land always be used as part of a public hospital.
Tom Jacobs, general counsel for the health care system, said the proposed changes to the deeds, which he worked on with the town’s attorney, Robert Woolmington, and the Vermont attorney general’s office, would make them “responsive to dealing with health care delivery needs in the 21st century.”
The changes would leave the town in the position of trustee but would make the language more flexible so there would be a possibility, for instance, that a developer could come in and help build and finance a project and recoup its investment by leasing the space back to the hospital. While Jacobs said there were no plans to sell any of the hospital’s property, a funding proposal like this one might require the hospital to allow a long-term lease, which is not allowed under the current deeds.
Jacobs said the hospital would not be able to pay for a facilities upgrade like the one they’re considering out of its own reserve funds.
Jacobs assured the Select Board that a retail space or an office building that is not dedicated to health care would still not be allowed on the hospital’s grounds. The proposed changes would also preserve the Select Board’s right to have the final say in proposed changes at the site.
According to Jacobs, the Bennington Probate Court staff are aware that a change is proposed and waiting for the paperwork to be submitted.
Joseph Krawczyk Jr., chairman of the Select Board, said negotiations over the changes had been going on for at least four years. He added that while he had once been opposed to the changes, he was now in support of approving a modernization of the deeds.
Other board members, including Sharyn Brush, Jason Morrissey and Greg Van Houten, also said they supported the change. No one spoke against it.
Krawczyk said the changes to the deeds would be an agenda item at the next board meeting Feb. 25, during which the board will vote on them. The Select Board had no plans to act on the changes Monday because they wanted to present it to the residents of Bennington and leave time for public comments.