BARRE — The president of Central Vermont Medical Center told city councilors Tuesday night that the looming closure of a downtown primary care practice should be accompanied by a plan to provide transportation for patients who need it to the nearby Barre Health Center.
“That’s our goal,” CVMC President Anna Noonan said when pressed on the point by Mayor Lucas Herring.
Though only 1.1 miles separate Granite City Primary Care, which is located next to City Hall in the fourth floor of the historic Blanchard Block, and the CVMC-run health center on South Main Street, Noonan acknowledged the distance could be a challenge for some.
“We’re actively engaged in the conversation about how to provide transportation to those patients,” she said, noting there is time between now and September to work out those details as part of a recently announced consolidation.
“We feel like we’re pretty close to a solution that will be advantageous to them,” she said, referring to the 114 patients of Granite City Primary Care who currently walk to its accessible downtown location.
Noonan told councilors the solution — at least in the near term — likely won’t involve an alliance with Green Mountain Transit Agency (GMTA), which already provides public transportation in central Vermont. She said conversations with GMTA didn’t yield the hoped-for result and the CVMC was exploring other options.
Though Noonan was short on specifics, she said negotiations are underway and “taxi vouchers” remain a possibility. That concept, she said, has “some legal limitations,” but would be one way to solve what she conceded was a “challenge” with respect the consolidation plan.
Citing difficulty recruiting physicians to small practices, like Granite City, Noonan said maintaining the status quo was not a viable option.
“Sometimes change is necessary to ensure sustainability in communities we serve,” she said.
Herring and others on the council said solving the transportation problem was important given CVMC’s plans to close Granite City Primary Care on Aug. 29 as part of the consolidation plan.
Noonan’s visit came on a night when councilors again approved a pay raise for City Clerk Carol Dawes that exceeded her budgeted request. Councilors were also told the city is still on track to close the books on a soon-to-end fiscal year nearly $225,000 in the red.
Dawes defended her 2% request, noting some of it was the figure used for budgeting purposes and reflected a shift in responsibilities that accompanied the hiring of Finance Director Dawn Monahan.
Councilors ignored their six-term clerk treasurer and engaged in a brief bidding war involving her compensation.
Councilor Rich Morey proposed a 3% pay raise while Councilor Jeffrey Tuper-Giles proposed a 3.5% amendment that unanimously passed.
Based on the council’s action, Dawes’ annual salary — $57,636 — will increase by just over $2,000 to $59,653, instead of the more modest increase she requested.
Meanwhile, councilors were told that 11 months through a fiscal year that will end on June 30, Monahan’s forecast for a $224,000 deficit is still on track.
The good news?
City Manager Steve Mackenzie said that number hasn’t gotten worse since Monahan ran the numbers through three quarters.
“It appears to be holding steady,” he said.
Much higher than expected winter maintenance costs and overtime expenses at the city’s shorthanded police department are largely responsible for the projected deficit. It comes on the heels of a year when the city posted an operating surplus of $184,000 after retiring a cemetery deficit well ahead of schedule.