Leader behind approved Colchester surgery center speaks out for a free market

Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of our Community Voices Series.

Now that the Green Mountain Care Board has signed off on a new independent surgery center after two years of push-back from the local health industry, HealthFirst executive director Amy Cooper spoke to True North about the long journey and what the approval means for health care in Vermont.

Photo by Lou Varricchio

Amy Cooper, executive director of HealthFirst

HealthFirst, an association of independent doctors, has been the driving force for the new surgery center in Colchester. The Green Mountain Care Board issued a certificate of need for the center in June, with all but one board member approving a need for affordable and accessible care.

The lone opposition vote, Con Hogan, said the center would fragment the state’s health system and increase costs. That sentiment was echoed by some in the regional health care industry, including the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems and the UVM Medical Center.

On the support side, numerous Vermont businesses stepped up with letters favoring the new Green Mountain Surgery Center. Among them were Burton Snowboards, Seventh Generation, Lake Champlain Chocolates, Blue Cross Blue Shield and MVP, among others.

True North: What does this health center mean for Vermont’s health care industry? Will prices get more competitive now?

Cooper: Freestanding surgery centers that offer routine outpatient procedures at half the cost of hospitals are commonplace throughout the country. There are over 5,000 of them nationwide. By allowing the Green Mountain Surgery Center to open, Vermonters will finally gain access to a lower cost, patient-friendly option. I believe our center will encourage our local hospital in Burlington to lower their prices for routine procedures as well.

TN: Describe the input coming from health care providers in the state.

Cooper: The local hospital has been pushing back heavily against opening of the new center so they may protect their monopoly status as the only provider of routine outpatient procedures in the entire Burlington metro area. On a state level, the Vermont Association of Hospitals & Health Systems opposed our application in front of the Green Mountain Care Board for two years before we were finally granted a certificate of need to begin operations.

TN: What new or different services will this health center provide compared with existing services?

Cooper: The center will offer routine outpatient procedures such as colonoscopies, epidural injections, hernia repair, biopsies and other minor surgeries. The turnaround time for patients on the day of surgery is expected to be much quicker due to the efficiency of the center the and standardization of procedures. Wait times to schedule and complete routine outpatient procedures will also be greatly reduced.

TN: What are the benefits for doctors and nurses to work here rather than elsewhere?

Cooper: Doctors and nurses who prefer to work in a smaller, more congenial environment may prefer to perform their cases at the surgery center rather than at the large academic hospital. Doctors and nurses who want their patients to have the option of lower-cost, high-quality services may prefer to utilize the center as well. We plan to employ a staff of 22 people, including mostly nurses, front office staff and a surgery center manager.

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at bielawski82@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorth82X.

2 thoughts on “Leader behind approved Colchester surgery center speaks out for a free market

  1. The government controlled healthcare budget in Vermont has caused our system to teeter on collapse. This is a great day for Vermonters. To introduce competition and choice in where we can get healthcare and by whom is a win win. Let the experiment begin. Let us be honest about the results. Will we see better care results? Will we see better staffing? If this healthcare facility flourishes by consumer choice then let it spread throughout Vermont.

  2. Seen it before, elsewhere. The hospitals are trying to trying to protect their turf and bottom line. Since they are responsible for providing charity care to the uninsured ( now they call it a ‘write-off’ so as not to offend) they need the paying, insured customer to make up for their losses. Conversely, insurance companies will always go with the low cost provider and will either gently nudge or outright push (with the ‘preferred provider’ option) their captive audience. Face it, the traditional healthcare system has a lot of overhead that could be eliminated to cut costs, they just don’t want to do it. Look at a for-profit like Prime Healthcare, who buys up money losing non-profits and turns them around.

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