Almost a year after he succeeded Thomas Huebner, Claudio Fort, president and CEO of Rutland Regional Medical Center, says he’s a believer in not just his hospital but his community.
“A year into this, I still feel very privileged to be here. I’ve had a chance over the past year to really get to know the organization in a lot more depth, and I will tell you, it’s a very impressive organization. … I’ve also had a chance to get to know the Rutland community, and I’ve been equally impressed. I think Rutland is a community that’s on the move and on the way up,” he said.
Fort, speaking to the Rutland Herald editorial board at the Herald’s Grove Street offices, complimented Huebner for leaving the Rutland hospital in a strong position financially and with its facilities, which include a rehabilitated and updated emergency department.
The announcement that Fort would be the new leader of RRMC was made at the beginning of March 2018 and he started about two months later.
Among the challenges at the hospital is finding enough appropriate staff, especially doctors with specific specialties such as urologists and nurses.
But Fort said he also appreciated the facilities and the level of engagement among staff and medical professionals.
Hospital officials are in the early stages of pursuing a new, onsite facility with eight beds in a secure building for treatment of people with mental health needs. The proposal is coming from RRMC and Rutland Mental Health.
“We’re also doing a facility master planning study. The hospital has made some great investments in facilities and now we’re taking a step back and saying, ‘OK, what are some of the other infrastructure facility needs?’ There are some older areas in the hospital. If you look at our medical oncology unit, that’s an older unit. What could we do to improve the environment up there — the environment of care for patients,” he said.
Fort addressed some of the challenges at the hospital as well, including the announcement made earlier this month of a data breach that may have exposed the data belonging to about 72,000 patients. Fort said the data wasn’t taken from the electronic medical records, so it wasn’t health records, and there was no evidence the information had been misused.
However, he said letters would be going out shortly to all the patients who may have been affected. He said he expected a strong response.
“I think we’re going to hear some more concerns next week when people get the letters, and we’ve tried to set up a system to respond to those concerns,” he said.
RRMC is also trying to address the opioid crisis beyond the programs at West Ridge Treatment Center.
Fort said doctors have been reconsidering how often they prescribe opioids and a system is in place to screen patients for opioid abuse when they visit the emergency department.
“They have a screening protocol they use and quick intervention so if they find that people are positive that they might be having an opiate problem, they take steps to try to address that with them and try to get them into a treatment program,” he said.
Fort expects the trend of Vermont hospitals seeking partnerships will continue. But while he said the Rutland hospital partners with a health care professional from UVM Medical Center to provide radiation oncology treatment, he said RRMC administrators were not currently planning an affiliation with another hospital the way Southwestern Vermont Medical Center has affiliated with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.
“In Vermont, most of our hospitals are independent, as is Rutland. We have no plans to affiliate with anyone, but it is something I think our organization over the next couple of years will be looking at. I think it’s something we constantly need to look at as health care evolves,” he said.
Another bright spot for the hospital is the news that RRMC is one of six Vermont hospitals that had more revenue compared to their budget, according to the Green Mountain Care Board.
“It’s something that’s taking more and more of our management focus every day. Matter of fact, we just got out of a senior leadership council meeting today. I’d say at least a third of that meeting … was focused on, ‘What are we doing to try to contain costs and the various initiatives we have in place?’ Although Rutland was one of five hospitals in Vermont that ended up with a positive operating income from operations, eight of the hospitals in Vermont lost money last year. Although we were in the black, we were barely in the black,” he said.
In recent years, that margin of revenue exceeding expenses has decreased, Fort added.