On December 26, 2018

Huebner, former Rutland hospital chief, to oversee Springfield recovery

By Colin Meyn/VTDigger

Gov. Phil Scott has appointed Tom Huebner, who stepped down in March as the head of Rutland Regional Medical Center, to “evaluate, monitor and assist Springfield Hospital as it confronts serious financial challenges.”

The governor’s office released a statement announcing the appointment Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 19, a week after Springfield’s CEO, Tim Ford, abruptly resigned in the wake of Valley News and VTDigger reports on the dire financial situation at the medical group.

Physicians, community members and local business owners said the hospital was leaving bills unpaid. In some cases, doctors had to buy their own supplies and heating oil. Hospital employees were having trouble getting health care because their insurance payments weren’t coming through. The hospital also switched emergency room contractors, severely cutting physician hours and leaving a few dozen people out of work.

“This is a very serious situation that requires immediate attention, experienced leadership, the oversight and collaboration of state government, and a competent and fully transparent response,” Scott said in the statement.

“Tom will work with officials in Springfield and ensure that they complete a thorough assessment and communicate fully, clearly and regularly to patients, employees, the community and the state as they determine what went wrong and how to fix it,” he added.

Huebner worked at Rutland Regional for 27 years, 20 as the chief executive. He also serves on the board of directors for Blue Cross Blue Shield, and previously served as the New England representative to the American Hospital Association.

In an interview Wednesday, Huebner said he had already spoken with representatives of Quorum Health, a consulting firm that has been hired to help turn around the financial situation, about his role and planned to meet with them in the coming days.

“They have done a smart thing in hiring Quorum Health to bring in the resources to do a deep dive and evaluate the situation,” he said. “Everybody wants the organization to survive and uncertainty is not helpful to anybody in this situation.”

Kevin Mullin, the head of the Green Mountain Care Board, said Tuesday that Springfield executives had not been forthcoming about their financial situation during their presentations to the regulator earlier this year. He said the board was looking over the transcripts of their budget testimony, which was delivered under oath, to determine whether any misrepresentations occurred. At the moment, he said, there was no evidence of misconduct by anyone at the hospital.

Mullin said he would be pushing for new rules that penalized organizations that failed to make such disclosures in the future.

Human Services Secretary Al Gobeille said he was still trying to figure out why Springfield’s CEO and CFO were abruptly shown the door. He also said that once the immediate concerns were addressed, a conversation needed to take place about why there wasn’t better communication between the hospital and regulators, and whether reporting rules need to change.

Huebner said hospitals were already required to provide a great deal of information, and that the first question should be whether Springfield followed existing regulations.

“Surprises are bad for everybody and most importantly for the community and for the patients,” he said. Huebner said he’s been traveling in his retirement.

“When the governor and secretary of the agency of human services calls and asks if you might help out in a situation that’s very important to the state and the community, if you can do it you say yes,” he said.

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