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Who needs a Renaissance Project - nurses rule

01/22/03 12:00AM By Philip Baruth
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(Host) Fletcher Allen Hospital has recently been plagued by a series of financial and regulatory scandals. Commentator Philip Baruth says the scandal and its progress has a familiar feel. And hopefully, Philip says, it will have a familiar outcome.

(Baruth) When my wife was pregnant with our daughter Gwendolyn, we got to Fletcher Allen Hospital about 11:30 at night. Our nurse was a woman named Peggy, and Peggy was an absolute rock. She stood by us through the night and into the morning, kept us calm when the labor didn't advance quickly. Peggy helped us feel in control of events, and that feeling is inextricable from the optimism it takes to hang on in marathon labor.

Most importantly, Peggy protected us from overbearing male doctors and anesthesiologists. Because, although it's to the eternal shame of my own sex, I'm here to tell you that every time a man in a white coat walked into the birthing room, it seemed to me we'd almost immediately find ourselves waist-deep in their attitude and their ego. I won't get into the details, but Peggy eventually took the anesthesiologist, who was leaving Fletcher Allen for a new job the next day, she took him out in the hall and straightened him right out. We could hear the tongue-lashing through the soundproofed door, and it cheered both of us up immensely.

That's why I'm not too worried about the scandals concerning Fletcher Allen's Renaissance Project. They're big, don't get me wrong. The Hospital was originally approved to spend $173.4 million and the project is now weighing in at $340 million and still growing. It seems clear enough that there was an extremely high-level plan in place to avoid state regulation and zoning laws, like Act 250 permitting. Such a plan, of course, would be criminal, and according to the Burlington Free Press, the scandal has sparked several criminal investigations. And then there is the most telling indication of wrong-doing I can think of: all of the highest level management types have strapped on their golden parachutes and floated from sight, leaving Ed Colodny alone in the cockpit, trying desperately to get the nose up.

Now, all of this has a familiar feel to me because I teach at the University of Vermont, and we had our own series of high-profile scandals a few years back, and our own golden-parachuting-president. We also brought in Ed Colodny in a panic when the ride got brutally choppy. To his credit, Colodny delivered for us. He brought back to UVM a sense of stability and self-worth, and it's my guess that he'll do much the same for Fletcher Allen.

But Colodny isn't the main reason why I'm not worried about the Renaissance Scandal. It's the nurses of Fletcher Allen themselves. Nurses are another species altogether - tougher, sharper, more reliable, and capable of deeper feeling and empathy than your normal human being. Whatever else anyone can ever say about Fletcher Allen, it's absolutely packed to the rafters with nurses.

And here's a tip for whoever the administrators eventually select to run the place: when you've got that going for you, my friend, you don't need a renaissance.

Philip Baruth is a novelist living in Burlington. He teaches at the University of Vermont.
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