Message from the CEO
A Shout Out To Our Health Care Workforce

Last week was difficult in the health care world, and left many of us searching for bright spots. Among the many ongoing challenges is a stressed health workforce constantly being asked to do more. But that same workforce is also the brightest of bright spots.

In March of 2020, when the pandemic took hold and our lives changed in so many ways, caregivers in Vermont and everywhere did what they instinctually do: they got up, went to work and continued to treat patients and deliver the best care they could.

That was no easy ask, either. Doctors and nurses had to wear extensive and uncomfortable PPE to keep themselves and their patients and families safe. At the end of a long shift, they changed clothes in their garages to keep germs out of the house. They worried about whether they were spreading a deadly and still-unknown disease to their spouses and kids. And they watched as ventilators became precious assets that everyone wanted and feared not having.

In the face of all that adversity, health care workers kept showing up. They demonstrated to the rest of us a powerful commitment and resilience. They showed what it means to love your job and do it with gusto even when the risk is greatest.

Now hospitals find themselves with full facilities and very sick patients. They are managing
capacity crunches and challenges with finding places to board or transfer patients, all of which puts more pressure on the people delivering care every day. And still, hospital and health care employees continue to show up day in and day out—taking extra shifts, covering in other departments, and providing higher levels of care than they do in more “normal” times.

As we navigate the workforce challenge and put it at the center of our advocacy agenda, let’s also remember to recognize and thank the people who make our health care possible. It’s as easy as thanking the nurse in your family (something I try to do every day) or sending flowers to the hospital employee who you know worked extra hours last week when staffing was tight.

It is not only clinicians to whom we owe our gratitude. It is also parking attendants and
cafeteria workers and custodial staff, electricians and technicians and delivery drivers and so many others who are also a major part of making our health care possible. So, there may be even more people to thank than you thought!

I hope we reach a world where the workforce problem is not so urgent or severe, but that day isn’t coming soon. Until then, let’s remember to be grateful for bright spots—the people who take care of us and have sacrificed so much to keep doing so.

Hope you had a happy Halloween!
In the News
Vt. officials take aim at Northeast Kingdom COVID surge

Vermont on Thursday reported another 315 new COVID cases. Nearly a quarter of them were in hard-hit Orleans County, which makes up just four percent of the state’s population. That’s why Governor Phil Scott and other officials rolled up their sleeves to kick off a renewed vaccination effort in an area that has seen the lowest compliance.

On the shores of Lake Memphremagog, the city of Newport is a close-knit community whose residents pride themselves on thriving together through the area’s harsh winters. But in recent weeks, the Northeast Kingdom --specifically Orleans County -- has been in the middle of a delta wave, with some 700 cases recorded in the last week.

The area has some of the lowest vaccination rates - 76% for Orleans County and 62% for Essex County. And North Country Hospital officials say it’s one factor that’s stressing the health system. They say they are seeing more children with COVID and more children and parents with severe symptoms.
Amid Hospital Crunch, VA to Offer Mental Health Beds to Nonveterans
Seven Days

The Department of Veterans Affairs has agreed to temporarily allow nonveteran mental health patients to receive inpatient care at its White River Junction location in an effort to alleviate the pressure on Vermont's health care system.

The state-federal agreement will provide access to as many as 10 inpatient mental health beds for civilian Vermonters, as long as no veterans would otherwise need the space. It went into effect Monday and will last 30 days.

“The VA has an enormous amount of skill and experience in the area of mental healthcare,” Emily Hawes, Vermont's commissioner of mental health, said in a press release. “We are fortunate that they are willing to help us out and open their doors to non-veterans for a period of time."
COVID-19 drives crunch for beds in Upper Valley hospitals
Valley News

At Gifford Medical Center the record is 24.

That’s the number of calls it took Gifford employees to find another hospital to take one patient in need of a higher level of care than the Randolph critical access hospital could provide, said Dan Bennett, Gifford’s CEO.

In the past, Gifford could rely on the closest academic medical centers — Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon and the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington — to take patients in need of critical care. But those hospitals, like others around the country, are now facing capacity issues due to a high number of COVID-19 patients and worsening illness due to delayed care amid the pandemic. Ongoing workforce issues also are playing a role.

The COVID-19 pandemic is “like a bomb going off in the middle of what was already a difficult situation,” Bennett said.
Vermont officials continue investigation into medical appointment wait times during pandemic

Right now, Vermont state officials are actively investigating health service wait times.

Findings and recommendations to the legislature will be reported come January, but in the meantime, they want to hear your story.

The investigation team that’s looking into medical appointment wait times is hosting two sessions for people to share their experience during the pandemic. Some people waiting anywhere from three to four months – to even a year.

“It’s been quite hard and difficult because of the backup and because of the pandemic, and now that it’s even more relaxed, it’s even more backed up because even more people are trying to get in,” said David Gauthier, who’s waiting to get a mental health analysis.

Dr. Christian Pulcini: Immediate action needed on mental health crisis in Vermont

On Tuesday, Oct. 19, a coalition of national organizations supporting the health and well-being of children across the country — the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association — declared a national emergency in children’s mental health.

This declaration was issued on the same day that the Biden administration released a brief focused on “Improving Access and Care for Youth Mental Health and Substance Use Conditions.” 

Both documents cite suicide as a leading cause of death among youth, as well as a 24 percent increase in emergency department visits for mental health in youth ages 5 through 11 and more than a 30 percent increase in those who are 12 to 17 years old in the last year.
Vermont parents of special-needs kids say long wait times for treatment is crisis
My Champlain Valley

Long wait times at medical facilities have been frustrating Vermonters for months, and state health officials are trying to understand how the delays are effecting people seeking care.

Dozens of people gathered for a virtual meeting Wednesday, hosted by the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, to express concerns with their efforts to see a doctor.

Marzena Steciak, a nurse at UVM Medical Center, said her daughter has autism and is often aggressive. She said she recently waited 17 hours in the emergency room for what turned out to be a 20-minute visit with a pediatric psychiatrist. “We left with band-aid treatment,” she said.  
Hospitals in the News
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