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An investment in BMH’s future

Shumlin, Welch laud completion of first phase of Emergency Department expansion

BRATTLEBORO—Brattleboro Memorial Hospital President and CEO Steve Gordon remembers getting a visit from Gov. Peter Shumlin shortly after Gordon started at the hospital.

Shumlin met with the staff and physicians, and Gordon said the governor opened the meeting with a challenge: “If you don’t change, you will have to close your doors.”

“And then he looked at me,” said Gordon, “and said, ‘Isn’t that right, Steve?’ As I looked around the room, I saw a lot of surprise and angst on people’s faces. But you know what? The governor was correct, and we have changed.”

One of the manifestations of the changes at BMH was celebrated on Monday, with the ribbon-cutting for the new main entrance to the hospital and its Emergency Department.

Shumlin and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., were in attendance, along with many of the staff and community members who helped guide the hospital through two years of improvements.

With a closer affiliation with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., more collaboration with Grace Cottage Hospital in Townshend and Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, N.H., improvements to BMH’s imaging department and cardiovascular center, and bringing several area primary care practices under the BMH umbrella, Gordon said the hospital answered Shumlin’s challenge.

“We are a stronger, more vibrant hospital focused on the expanding health care needs of our communities,” said Gordon.

Welch said he was struck by the contrast between the House, which voted for the 40th time last week to repeal the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, while the people of the Brattleboro area were making a commitment to improve heath care.

“America has been at its best when we have made commitments to the future,” Welch said. “Vermont believes in the future, and as tough as things seem now, when we come together, we build stronger communities.”

For Shumlin — who noted he was born in Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, as were his two daughters — the ongoing Emergency Department project was a sign of how much the community believed in BMH and what it provides.

“You can judge a community by the health of its hospital,” he said. “This is a symbol of what lies ahead for Brattleboro.”

With Vermont in the thick of an overhaul in the way health care is delivered and paid for, Shumlin said if the state can prove that Vermonters can still receive quality health care while spending less to provide that care, Vermont will have an enormous economic advantage over the other 49 states.

Monday’s ceremony marked the end of the first phase of the $7.5 million Emergency Department renovations. The hospital’s previous front entrance was extended to create a walk-in ED entrance that is separate from the current entrance near the ambulance bays.

Where the hospital’s gift shop and coffee shop once were sited, there are now two “rapid treatment” examination rooms. These are designed to handle less serious “walk-in” cases. There is also a new admissions desk and waiting room.

Next, attention will turn to renovating the present ED, which was last worked on in 1982. It now serves twice the number of patients that it was designed to handle.

The trauma rooms will be enlarged, and two “safe rooms,” where patients in crisis can placed until they can be treated, will be added. A decontamination area and increased work space for emergency medical service staffers will also be added.

Once the project is completed next spring, patients will see reduced waiting times and improved patient privacy, Gordon said, adding that emergency department staffers will have more space to do their work.

Gordon said nearly three-quarters of patients admitted to BMH start their medical journeys in the ED, so this project was critical to the future of the hospital.

Fundraising is still going on to help pay for the renovations. The next big event, “High Heels and Hard Hats,” with music, dancing, food, and a silent auction, is scheduled for Sept. 7 on the hospital grounds. Visit www.bmhvt.org for more details.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #215 (Wednesday, August 7, 2013).

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