Legislative Update
Good morning! The productive pace of the legislature continues. On Friday, the senate passed paid family and medical leave. Meanwhile, the health care committees started digging in on a variety of important issues, from workforce development to OneCare to the Brattleboro Retreat.
On the elections front, Senator Debbie Ingram (D) has joined the race for lieutenant governor in addition to Molly Gray (D), Meg Hansen (R), and President Pro Tem of the Senate
Tim Ashe (P). 

Last Week

Workforce shortage solutions:  The Rural Health Services Task Force and primary care providers testified at the House Health Care and Senate Health and Welfare committees regarding workforce shortages in Vermont and possible solutions. The Rural Health Services Task Force presented the workforce shortage across the health care continuum, highlighting that health care is unique amdevonong other workforce sectors in that it heavily relies on people taking care of people rather than automation. The Rural Health Service Task Force made recommendations around changes in licensure, increased funding for loan repayment and adoption of a tax credit program. 

A Healthier State House

“A Healthier State House” health fair this Thursday!

Once again, we are teaming up with our members and other organizations dedicated to making Vermont a healthier place to give lawmakers and elected officials hands-on experience with what is happening at hospitals around the state. Greater investments in primary prevention and wellness and a focus on population health are helping more Vermonters get and stay healthy.

We will host a health fair at the State House this Thursday. From 8 a.m. to noon, staff from hospitals and health systems across Vermont will share information and a few tasty samples of healthy food with their elected representatives in the cafeteria. From noon to 3 p.m., hospitals will share displays and programming, including blood pressure screenings, in room 11. We hope to see all our legislators and other frequenters of the State House there!

In the News
Retreat, state step back from the brink
The Commons

After meetings last week between officials from the Brattleboro Retreat and the state, both sides say they are optimistic that the state’s largest mental health facility will stay open.

While it appears that tensions between the Brattleboro Retreat and the state Agency of Human Services (AHS) are simmering down, the factors that created the crisis still remain.

Downsizing of the facility remains on the table as the state and the hospital look at “sustainable long-term solutions.”

“Of course, that would mean the potential for beds not being available when needed,” Konstantin von Krusenstiern, the hospital’s vice president for development and communications told The Commons.

Noting that demand for Retreat beds “can fluctuate dramatically from day-to-day, week-to-week, and month-to-month,” von Krusenstiern noted that “it is difficult to plan for changes in need.”

UVM Medical Center will reopen Fanny Allen operating rooms
VT Digger

The University of Vermont Medical Center will reopen the operating rooms at Fanny Allen, even though it has not determined the source of the mysterious odor that sickened staff members. 

After four months of investigations and two months of closure, hospital officials said they were sure the building was safe enough to be reopened the week of Jan. 27. UVM Medical Center announced the decision in a press release Wednesday. 

“The building is safe and we’re going to keep monitoring,” said spokesperson Annie Mackin. “It’s now probably the safest place of any facility we have. It’s wired to the gills.”

Staff have installed carbon monoxide detectors and air sampling canisters in the buildings, and employees will wear detectors as well. In coming months, the medical center will upgrade the kitchen exhaust system, install filters in the operating room and install a weather station on the roof to help determine the cause in the case of future problems. 

The operating rooms closed after employees reported smelling an odor — which they described at the time as “hamburger,” “bacon,” or “two-stroke fuel” — that left them feeling light-headed and nauseous on two different occasions. On Oct. 9, 17 staff members went to urgent care after feeling “sick to their stomachs” because of the smell. Then on Nov. 27 seven staff members reported smelling a scent and experiencing similar symptoms. 

After each incident, two staff members were found to have low levels of carbon monoxide in their blood. UVM Medical Center closed the operating rooms at Fanny Allen in early December. 
Brattleboro Retreat's Sustainability Is Concern For Hospital Administrators Around Vermont

When the state denied a $2 million emergency bailout request by the Brattleboro Retreat this month, the public back-and-forth that followed shined a light on the psychiatric care facility's fragile financial situation.

While Brattleboro Retreat officials are no longer talking about immediate closure, health administrators across the state say they're watching the situation closely because they say any cuts in psychiatric services at the Retreat will have serious and potentially dangerous ripple effects in hospitals across Vermont.

"I think alarms went off, particularly for folks in our emergency department who are seeing these people come in with no place to go," said Wendy Franklin, a spokesperson for North Country Hospital, in Newport.

According to Franklin, in the last 10 months 127 patients came to their emergency department seeking mental health care. Of those people, Franklin said, 40 ended up being admitted for inpatient care.

"UVM is our closest other psychiatric facility, and they are chronically full," Franklin explained, so most of the 40 people who needed inpatient care were sent to the Brattleboro Retreat.

Vermont health officials declare hepatitis outbreak
The Bennington Banner

Vermont is in the early stages of an outbreak of hepatitis, the Vermont Department of Health announced Thursday. Vermont joins 30 other states, including New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

In 2019, Vermont had 12 cases of acute hepatitis A virus (HAV) infection, compared with the previous five-year average of three cases per year. Of the 12 cases, 58 percent were hospitalized. Many Vermont counties have reported cases, with most in the southern part of the state.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine, M.D., said case number trends have prompted the department to make the formal declaration.

"We've been anticipating an outbreak of hepatitis A cases here from monitoring how this has evolved in other states," Levine said. "We are working closely with health care providers to ensure that Vermonters are vaccinated, and with our community partners to get the word out to people who are at high risk of infection, some of whom can be difficult to reach."

According to the Department of Health, hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by the Hepatitis A virus. Symptoms can range from a mild infection to a more serious illness, including liver failure and death. The virus is generally spread by person-to-person contact, primarily through the fecal-oral route. Thorough handwashing and sanitary practices are important to help prevent it from spreading.

SVMC's unwanted drug collection totals continue to grow
Vermont Business Magazine

Every day is a prescription drug take-back day at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center (SVMC), part of Southwestern Vermont Health Care (SVHC), where a drug take-back box in the lobby has allowed members of the public to anonymously dispose of 1,145 pounds of unwanted medications since its installation in July 2017.

Totals are growing each year: from 199 pounds in 2017 to 427 pounds in 2018 and 519 pounds in 2019.

“This is a good sign that more people are aware of the opportunity and interested in keeping potentially harmful drugs out of our communities and environments,” said Ginger Ritchie, who leads the project at SVMC.

The box looks like a mailbox, featuring a one-way medicine drop. It can be used to dispose of unused or expired controlled substances, non-controlled substances, and even over-the-counter medications. The specialized box is available to the public 24 hours each day.

People in the News
Mark Your Calendar!
A Healthier State House Health Fair
Thursday, January 23
Vermont State House

Friday, February 7
Bromley Mountain Ski Resort, Peru