From Our CEO
Today is World Mental Health Day and I hope you all will join me in acknowledging the challenges we face here in Vermont and across the globe to increase awareness, reduce barriers and normalize treatment. I also hope you will act. For far too many Vermonters, stigma is an impenetrable wall that prevents us from realizing we are not well—it keeps us from seeking help, and it leads to incredible suffering.

We gathered this past week for our first in-person Annual Meeting in three years. I couldn’t know it in advance, but the experience being together again with colleagues, friends and people I admire and respect in our field was a significant emotional boost for me. We tackled weighty issues including mental health—in particular challenges for health care workers, who have experienced heightened stress, increased violence and trauma brought on or made worse by COVID-19.

As we listened to one speaker, Dr. Cath Burns, help us understand the gravity of the challenge between the need for mental health care among our health care providers and the very low percentage of those getting the help they need, it was overwhelming. (We’ll have more about Dr. Burns’ presentation in future editions of VAHHS Update. See a clip here.) But those of us who work in health care are wired to look for the opportunity to step in and take action to reverse this trend. So, it occurred to me that each of us has a role to play—even those of you reading who do not work in health care—and now, truly more than any other time in our lives, we need to step up. We need to be crystal clear with ourselves, our families and friends that mental health care is as much a part of our routine care as a colonoscopy or annual physical.

Here are several things you can do to make positive change:

For my part, I’ll be having a family conversation about mental health and making sure we all know our home is a safe space and help is available if needed. And at VAHHS, we will be sharing information on social media to increase awareness. All of these small acts make a very big difference. We are fortunate to live in a place like Vermont where we can actually feel the collective impact.

Thank you and have a great week.
Michael Del Trecco
Interim President and CEO, VAHHS
In the News
Vermont launches awareness project amid record-high suicide rates

With suicide rates on the rise in Vermont — including a record-breaking year in 2021 — the state has launched a new website and education campaign geared toward helping the public understand how to intervene before a suicide attempt.

Facing Suicide, a collaboration between the Vermont Department of Health and Department of Mental Health, provides links to resources about prevention and mental health treatment. Through data and firsthand accounts, the campaign aims to clear up common misconceptions about suicide. The effort is funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The stakes are higher than ever: In 2021, Vermont reported 142 suicides, the highest yearly total ever recorded. There were 54 suicides from January to June of 2022, putting this year on pace with the state’s three-year average, according to the health department.

Hospital leaders make and donate health and hygiene kits for refugees

Health and hospital leaders who gathered at the 87th annual meeting of the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems (VAHHS) joined together to produce health and hygiene kits for refugee families who will arrive in Vermont this year. Since the conference took place in Manchester, the group worked with Bennington County Open Arms (BCOA) to provide essential supplies for the 15 families who are expected to join Bennington County communities this year.

“Above all, we want these families to feel welcomed and supported as they join our cities and towns, so this project is our way of doing just that,” explains Michael Del Trecco, interim president and CEO of VAHHS. “Our kits contained health items that ranged from gauze bandages to heating pads and toiletries from toothbrushes to shaving kits. We know that supplies like this are important for good health and we were happy to provide them to families who will likely come to Vermont with little or nothing,” he notes.

Berbeco: Local efforts to strengthen mental health resources in Vermont

The pandemic has exposed the fault lines in our state’s mental health system of care, with many more of us trying to connect to services for depression, anxiety, and other issues. World Mental Health Day 2022 (October 10) gives us an opportunity to reconnect with each other in our shared efforts to protect and improve mental health resources for ourselves and our neighbors.

As I write this, about one in five positions are vacant across Vermont’s state-designated mental health and specialized service agencies, where nearly a thousand Vermonters are waiting for mental health and substance use services, according to Vermont Care Partners.

Therapists in private practice, too, say they are booked with people who decided to prioritize their mental health during the pandemic, contributing to long wait times for many of us to access care.
Vermont: 94 die from overdoses in first half of 2022
Valley News

During the first half of this year, 94 Vermonters died of an accidental opioid overdose, reflecting the sustained increase in such deaths since the Covid-19 pandemic started.

Eighty-eight of the deaths between January and June involved fentanyl, according to a recent report by the Vermont Department of Health.

Fentanyl, which has dominated fatal opioid use in the state since 2016, is a powerful drug that’s relatively inexpensive to produce and widely available. Authorities said these factors have led illicit drug manufacturers to mix fentanyl with other substances — with or without the knowledge of users.
Hospitals in the News
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