Colodny asks formal permission for FAHC expansion

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(Host) The state’s largest hospital, Fletcher Allen Health Care, has formally asked state regulators to give their approval to the hospital’s controversial expansion plan. The Renaissance Project has more than doubled in cost since it was first approved, with a new filing that puts the final cost at $356 million.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) It’s a project that has been surrounded by controversy for several years. In 2001, state regulators gave their approval to an expansion plan that was expected to cost roughly $173 million. But it then became clear during the past year that some top hospital officials deliberately tried to hide the true cost of the project from state review. The hospital’s board was strongly criticized for not providing closer oversight of the project.

In the fall, former USAir President Ed Colodny was brought in to help restore public confidence in the hospital. In November, Colodny said the true cost of the expansion project was going to be at least $326 million. Now as the hospital files an amended application with the state, Colodny told reporters at a Statehouse press conference that the total cost has risen to $356 million:

(Colodny) “Well I’m not going to swear on a stack of bibles that it couldn’t go to $357 million, or $358 million. We don’t believe that it will go any higher. We built in a very good contingency number and barring any major surprises, such as a work stoppage or anything of that type that is not foreseen, we expect to bring it in at this price.”

(Kinzel) Colodny acknowledged that the controversy over the project has undermined public trust in the hospital but he feels there are steps that can be taken to help restore this trust:

(Colodny) “Let me put in this way. I think there are needs for changes in communication between the institution and the public.”

(Kinzel) Northfield Representative Anne Donahue, who raised a lot of concerns about the project in the past year, says she feels Fletcher Allen is now doing the best it can in a bad situation. But there’s a lesson that Donahue thinks the state’s health care community should learn from this controversy:

(Donahue) “I think we need to learn that we need to pay attention when people are raising questions, even when they’re questioning an institution that’s a powerful and major institution.”

(Kinzel) Fletcher Allen also reported on Friday that it posted an operating loss for the most recent quarter. The loss is being blamed primarily on longer-than-average patient stays during this time period.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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