BENNINGTON >> While he was short on details, the leader of the local hospital system said to expect some big announcements later this year that will impact not just health care in the region, but the economy.

Thomas Dee, president and CEO of Southwestern Vermont Health Care, spoke at a Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce mixer, held at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center on Thursday. There, he gave attendees a preview of things to come, saying the health care group seeks to deepen its relationship with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H.

"That will be a game changer for this region as we move ahead with this relationship with Dartmouth-Hitchcock, which I think has been a tremendous partner," he said.

In 2012, the physicians at SVMC became employees of Dartmouth-Hitchcock, forming the medical group, "Dartmouth-Hitchcock Putnam Physicians."

Dee declined to go into heavy detail on the subject, saying nothing has been finalized, but while the physicians group was a relationship at the doctor level, the next step is to connect the two health care systems at other levels.

"It would be an organizational affiliation," he said. "We are looking at a model that would probably be more of a parent-holding company model with Dartmouth being our parent."

Dartmouth would not own SVHC, it would more akin to a "sponsor," he said. "We would remain a separate entity with a separate (Board of Directors), a separate 501c3, but we would work very closely with Dartmouth."


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Part of this will include the unveiling of a master plan.

"That will be a very significant unveiling," Dee said. "It will be one of the largest projects in Vermont. I think it will be a project that will focus on the future of health care in our region. Not only will it be a major positive impact on health care, but it's also going to be a major economic stimulus in our region as we move ahead with a significant redevelopment of our campus as well as our outreach services."

He said that over the next 12 to 16 months, there will be more primary care sites opened by SVHC akin to the Pownal Campus which opened in October. Sites are planned for Hoosick Falls, North Bennington, the Wilmington area, and Bennington itself.

"I'm very excited to say we will be expanding and partnering with Dartmouth-Hitchcock to open up a new orthopedic institute program in our region as of January 1," he said. That will involve bringing orthopedic surgeons into this area to live and work.

The deepening of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock relationship will help SVHC in a number of other ways, said Dr. Trey Dobson, SVMC medical director. For one, by this fall, the intensive care unit will have the ability to work remotely with a Dartmouth-Hitchcock intensivist, a doctor who specializes in treating critically ill patients.

In general, the hospital will have ways to remotely access specialists so locals who need them will not have to travel.

Dobson said the more involved connection with Dartmouth-Hitchcock will also increase SVMC's ability to recruit physicians

At the beginning of his talk, Dee touted the hospital's recent gains and success. It was named one of Vermont's top employers by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce and Vermont Business Magazine. Dee said it was the only health system to make the list. It also received its fourth consecutive Magnet Designation, an honor that recognizes excellence in nursing care. This is something few hospitals on the planet have achieved, Dee said, there being only 31 globally to do so.

— Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at 802-447-7567 Ext. 115