MIDDLEBURY — Porter Medical Center (PMC) on Monday officially launched its search for a new leader to replace Dr. Fred Kniffin, who will be vacating the post next spring to resume more fully his duties as an Emergency Department physician. The search is being guided by an 11-member committee led by former PMC Board Chairwoman Maureen McLaughlin. New PMC Board Chairman Sivan Cotel is serving as vice chairman of the search panel, which will spend the next several weeks asking Porter employees what qualities they’d like to see in their new top administrator.
McLaughlin and Cotel promised Addison County residents will also be asked to help create the ideal profile for their hospital’s next leader, a person expected to start next June 1. While Kniffin won’t have a direct role in choosing his successor, the search committee will frequently ask him for advice. He voiced confidence in PMC’s recruitment process in a recent email to the PMC community. “I have always believed that if you apply good process, you get a good solution,” Kniffin said. “We plan to be inclusive, transparent and to communicate early and often.”
Officials from the consulting firm Witt/Kieffer spent Monday and Tuesday touring the PMC campus, meeting with Porter’s board of directors and with stakeholder groups representing providers, staff and managers/directors. “What they do during these two days will be to help build the profile of the candidate,” McLaughlin said. Cotel said Witt/Kieffer has performed “all of the (hospital administrator) searches that one could think of in the Vermont area,” including the recent, successful hunt for new Central Vermont Medical Center CEO.
Porter Medical Center includes the hospital, Helen Porter Rehabilitation & Nursing, and a dozen affiliated provider practices throughout the county. Officials know the stakes are high in coming up with a good match to succeed Kniffin, who has drawn considerable praise for taking PMC from one of its historic lows just three years ago to a position of greater strength and stability today. When Kniffin took the helm of PMC in March 2016 the institution was seeing alarming turnover among its member-providers, along with a fiscal crisis marked by layoffs. He replaced then-CEO Lynn Boggs, who had resigned after only nine months on the job. He initially agreed to an interim CEO appointment, a status that ultimately became permanent.
With the help of PMC employees and board members, Kniffin led the organization through its affiliation with the University of Vermont Health Network, a partnership that has netted Porter financial security, more diverse services and the promise of new facilities on its campus during the coming years — including a medical officer building. The affiliation with UVM Health Network should help increase the quality and quantity of applicants vying for Porter’s top administrative position, search committee members reasoned.
“Porter, in the past, when we did the last search for (Boggs), was an institution that was struggling financially and had a lot of work to do,” Cotel said. “It was an independent organization with an unclear future. Porter now is in a much stronger position, where an applicant will see an institution that’s healthy and that has extra resources — both logistically and financially — from the network.”
With that in mind, PMC’s next leader won’t be expected to lift up the hood and perform a complete engine overhaul. Rather, it’ll be making sure the motor continues to purr. “We’re in a good place … and we have really good plans ahead of us,” McLaughlin said. “You want someone who’s going to stay the course with where we’re at.” The steering committee already has ideas of what the Porter community is looking for in its new leader. More than 60 people completed an internal PMC survey a month ago asking respondents, in part, what kinds of professional experiences and leadership qualities the new CEO should possess.
Also, PMC board members have agreed the new top administrator should — among other things — be approachable, a good communicator, empathetic, trustworthy, transparent and respected, as well as a good “cultural fit” and have a “strong voice” during UVM Health Network discussions, according to McLaughlin.
Witt/Kieffer consultants helped PMC with the 2015 search that saw Boggs succeed longtime Porter President Jim Daily. While Boggs’ tenure was brief, Porter board members were pleased with the recruitment process that Witt Kieffer had mapped out. It’s a process that produced three semifinalists who each spent a day-and-a-half on PMC campus, meeting with employees who subsequently evaluated each candidate through a survey.
“That’s our template, and we’ll follow that as much as it makes sense,” McLaughlin said. Cotel believes recruiters will benefit from lessons learned from past searches. “Instead of going back and figuring out what we could have done differently with Lynn, it’s about learning about what we did and didn’t do with (Boggs) and what we did and didn’t do with (Kniffin),” he said. Once the search committee has gathered feedback from the stakeholder groups this fall, Cotel said the process will temporarily “go dark” while Witt/Kieffer starts reviewing applications and setting aside the most promising ones.
Plans call for the top candidate to be offered the job next March. And for the first time ever, PMC officials won’t unilaterally pick their new leader. The UVM Health Network will have the final say. “This is a process that gets driven by Porter, but ultimately it gets stamped by the network, as they are the ones who formally hire the new president,” McLaughlin said. Dr. John Brumsted, CEO of the UVM Medical Center and the UVM Health Network, will participate in the search. “Being in the network opens up our understanding of what this role is, too, in a different way than we understood during the last search,” McLaughlin said.
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.