Legislative Update
Devon Green, VP Government Relations
Like most other states, Vermont is experiencing a severe and growing blood shortage. Please visit redcrossblood.org to find blood drives in your area and donate if you can! 
On the legislative front… The House went hybrid last week. Even though witnesses remain remote, it was oddly comforting to see those tiny committee rooms on YouTube. I don’t know if we’ll ever want to cram into those spaces in the same way again, but I hope the legislature maintains some COVID practices, like allowing an emergency department physician from Brattleboro to testify over Zoom. 
Governor Scott also unveiled his FY 2023 budget with a focus on one-time funding as a lasting investment in areas like broadband, housing and workforce. While the governor and the legislature seem aligned on these broad goals for Vermont, we will have to see what emerges as they dig into the details in the upcoming weeks.
Workforce: Governor Scott unveiled his FY 2023 budget last Tuesday. He proposed broad workforce, housing, and child care investments.
  • Direct assistance to health care workers 
  • $10 million in tuition assistance for those working towards a career in nursing or jobs in some trades.
  • $1,000 tax credit for nurses, including RNs, LNAs, LPNs and APRNs
  • Housing
  • $15 million to stand up a program that encourages the construction of homes for middle-income Vermonters.
  • $70 million for mixed-income housing to help middle-income families and more vulnerable populations.
  • Child Care
  • Tax credit for childcare workers
  • $12 million to expand access to affordable and high-quality childcare, with changes to the Child Care Financial Assistance Program.
The House passed the FY 2022 Budget Adjustment Act last week, including:
  • $25 million in one-time funds to pay traveler contracts and other costs for keeping skilled nursing facility beds and ICU units open, as well as additional unforeseen emergency-related costs.
  • $60 million in worker retention funding for long term care facilities, home health agencies, designated agencies, substance use treatment providers and recovery centers. These services are essential to ensure hospital capacity.
Regulatory Flexibilities: House Health Care voted out of committee H.654, an extension of many of the current COVID-19 regulatory flexibilities, including licensure flexibilities, until March 31, 2023. This provides much-needed predictability for hospitals as we continue to manage COVID and the workforce crisis.
The committee also reinstated flexibilities for the Green Mountain Care Board around Certificates of Need, the hospital budget process, insurance rate review, and the ACO budget process. Included in that provision is new language requiring the Green Mountain Care Board to consider extraordinary labor costs for the FY 2022 and FY 2023 hospital budgets and the impact of those costs on affordability.
We thank the committee for their fast work on this important issue.
Mental Health 
  • The Department of Mental Health updated the House Corrections and Institutions Committee with its Forensic Working Group Preliminary Report. The group has identified two major areas to address going forward: diversion programs and restoration of competency/forensic facilities. VAHHS has advocated for the end of the judiciary returning patients who have assaulted health care workers to the same emergency department where the assault occurred.
  • FY 2023 Budget
  • $2 million to add four communities to the mobile mental health response pilot in Rutland, which helps people when and where they are in crisis.
  • Addition of nearly $1 million to the Suicide Prevention program.
  • Funding for mental health professionals in all State Police barracks.
Affordability: Consultants from Health System Transformation presented their report, Improving Affordability and Accessibility by Reducing Health Care Costs for Consumers and Businesses in Vermont, to the House and Senate health care committees. The major recommendations include establishing a cost growth benchmark linked to the consumer price index, extending the moderate needs group in Choices for Care, establishing a public option, and expanding the Blueprint for Health. The Senate Health and Welfare Committee was not inclined to pursue options that cut reimbursement to health care organizations. The committee showed interest in extending the moderate needs group, but will continue to discuss and take testimony. 
In the News
‘There’s just not a light on the horizon’: Vermont hospital staff swamped by record Covid-19 hospitalizations

Asked what it’s like to do her job right now amid a staffing crisis and surging Covid-19 hospitalizations, a nurse heading home from Rutland Regional Medical Center on Monday was moved to tears.

“It’s a lot. It’s just a lot. It’s really difficult right now,” said the woman, who declined to give her name. Having just finished her shift, she was already late to pick up her daughter, she said. 

Vermont on Tuesday reported a record-setting 116 Covid-19 patients in the state’s hospitals, part of a trend of a rising Omicron surge. Meanwhile, an increasing number of health care workers are getting sidelined after being exposed or infected themselves, contributing to an ever-worsening staffing shortage that is stretching hospitals thin.

The move for more money: Vt. struggles to address nursing crisis

Caregiving is at the core of nursing, but money also matters and motivates. Facing ongoing workforce shortages and a global pandemic, Vermont hospitals spent upwards of $100 million to bring in higher-paid traveling nurses last year, nearly double the price tag from 2020. Christina Guessferd reports on the pay disparity that is driving many Vermont nurses to leave their jobs and what the state is doing about it.

“I work aside travelers who are great but they are making four times as much as me,” said Elise Legere, a UVM Medical Center staff nurse, who says she is leaving her job.

“If the hourly wage was better, I’m sure more nurses would be able to stay here longer,” said Rebecca Call, a travel nurse at UVMMC.

“It does really hurt when you don’t feel like your work is valued,” said Benton Taylor, a UVMMC staff nurse.
Vermont reports 500th Covid death amid record-breaking surge

More than 500 Vermonters have died from Covid-19.

The state Department of Health reported eight more deaths Wednesday, bringing the death toll for the pandemic to 507.

Nearly half of those deaths — 249 — have occurred since July 2021, when the Delta variant began driving up case counts after a spring lull.

Despite the protection offered by vaccines and clinical treatments, the number of deaths rose during the Delta wave more quickly than at any other time during the pandemic, according to health department data. Vermont reported 62 deaths last month, continuing a record-breaking streak of severe outcomes. December 2021 was the second-deadliest month of the pandemic.
Hospital staffing is most critical in Vermont, according to a nationwide study
Burlington Free Press

A recent study looking at hospital capacity around the nation ranked Vermont the worst for hospital staffing shortages.

The study by Quote Wizard ranked states according to how prepared they would be with another COVID-19 surge. Information was compiled Jan. 12 based on data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Vermont's top ranking reflects 69% of hospitals in the state were facing critical staffing levels. At the top of the list with Vermont were Rhode Island at 67% and New Hampshire at 60%, suggesting at least part of New England is dealing with major staffing issues. The national average was 29%; Massachusetts was above at 38%, but Maine fared well at 18% and Connecticut had the best percentage in the nation at 4%.
Has Omicron peaked in Vermont? Data suggests cases could be on the decline

Vermont's latest COVID-19 modeling data shows that the state appears to be heading in the right direction.

Case counts have gone down across all age groups since last week, but hospitalizations have gone up.

State health officials said unvaccinated Vermonters continue to be at highest risk of hospitalization and death.

As cases are on the decline, experts are hoping that means the omicron variant has peaked in the Green Mountain State.

Mike Pieciak, the commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation, said he's encouraged by the data of surrounding states in New England and the northeast, which have seen cases dramatically decline over the past week.
Hospitals in the News
Mark Your Calendar