Message from the CEO
Hope for the holidays
by Jeff Tieman
VAHHS President and CEO

Of all the single days I will remember over the years, Tuesday, December 15, 2020 will be near the top of the list. That day, last Tuesday, the first COVID-19 vaccinations were administered to COVID-19-facing providers at UVM Medical Center and Rutland Regional Medical Center, followed quickly by vaccinations at all other Vermont Hospitals. It was the perfect holiday gift—a bit of light among the darkness we’ve waded through this year. And as the first healthcare workers received their shots, there truly was an air of celebration.

The end of December is always such a funny time of year in that we’re simultaneously asked to look back at what’s happened over the course of the year and also look ahead with eagerness at what’s next. This year is no different in that regard but what is different is the enormity of all that’s happened and the sense of relief that we will pull through this in 2021.

I chose to move to Vermont four years ago when the opportunity to run our hospital
association came my way. I knew at the time I would enjoy working in health care in Vermont. What I didn’t know—what I couldn’t know—was how grateful I would be to live in this incredibly special place. A place where state officials of all ideologies value science and data over politics and fear. Where hospital leaders work together and share PPE and testing resources to put the health of patients ahead of individual or regional needs. Where nurses and home health care providers raise their hands, risk their health and walk into long-term care facilities to provide supplemental staff when outbreaks occur. And where nearly all members of the general public adhere to basic guidelines like wearing masks and social-distancing to protect each other. Vermont is a remarkable place. I am so fortunate to be here.

As we look back on the most profound and difficult years most of us have experienced, we can feel pride about our response. As we look ahead to a 2021, where COVID-19 is potentially eradicated, we must stay vigilant in our response. It will take a while for vaccines to be broadly available; until then, all the precautionary measures have to stay in full force.

And, we must continually remember all the people around us whose lives have been affected in ways unimaginable when we rang in the new decade 11 months ago: Those who lost loved ones to COVID-19, suicide and overdose. Those who are hungry and whose businesses have been harmed or closed. Those who have been isolated for months on end.

Please check in with your family, friends and neighbors who may be experiencing sadness and loneliness this holiday season. The path to emotional, economic, cultural and health recovery will not be fast or linear but we are on it – and staying together. What I’ve learned of Vermont is that is what we do.

Happiest holidays to you and yours.
Jeff Tieman
VAHHS President and CEO
In the News
Vermont’s first vaccine recipient: ‘I am both honored and humbled’
UVM Medical Center

How does it feel to be Vermont’s first health care worker vaccinated against COVID-19? “I am both honored and humbled,” said Cindy Wamsganz, a registered nurse who works in UVM Medical Center’s Emergency Department. More thoughts from Cindy here:

Wamsganz was among several frontline staff at The University of Vermont Medical Center who became the first Vermonters to receive the approved Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

With the sooner-than-anticipated arrival of the vaccine in Vermont, UVM Medical Center, its UVM Health Network affiliates, and hospitals across the state are working as quickly as possible to ramp up vaccination clinics ahead of schedule. Initial vaccination efforts will continue in a phased manner for health care workers employed at the hospital and in the community, as well as first responders considered to be at higher risk for exposure.

Call to action: Employment and volunteer opportunities to assist with Vermont’s COVID-19 response

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing has remained constant: the need to help fellow Vermonters is great. We truly are all in this together. If you have the capacity to step in to help, please do! We are in need of nurses and caregivers for both paid and volunteer positions.

FDA Panel Weighs Moderna's COVID-19 Vaccine

In a 20-0 vote, with one abstention, a panel of advisers to the Food and Drug Administration recommended that the COVID-19 vaccine being developed by Moderna be authorized for emergency use in adults during the pandemic. 

If the agency authorizes the vaccine for emergency use, as is expected, it would become the second to be deployed in the U.S to fight the coronavirus.

The vote in favor of the vaccine was taken to answer the agency's question: Do the benefits of the Moderna vaccine outweigh its risks for use in people age 18 and older?

The vaccine is 94% effective in preventing COVID-19, and the agency's analysis said there are no specific safety concerns that would stand in the way of authorization.

UVMMC sued by Trump administration over nurse's right to opt out of abortion
Burlington Free Press

In May 2018, a nurse at UVM Medical Center filed a federal complaint, saying she was forced to help carry out an abortion against her moral objections.

The nurse, who has never been named, and who no longer works at the medical center, said she was brought into the procedure believing it was a miscarriage, only to realize after she was in the room that it was an elective abortion.

The medical center reversed its 45-year-old policy banning elective abortions in September 2017, without any public notification. 

At the heart of the nurse's complaint is a balancing act hospitals must perform between the health and safety of patients, and the right of health care workers to opt out of procedures they object to on religious or moral grounds.
Vermont hospitals adjusting to needs
Rutland Herald

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, hospitals across Vermont have been spending millions of dollars on renovations designed to prevent suicides in their care, increasing strain on already overburdened hospitals.

However, data provided by the same organization suggesting the change indicates that in-patient suicide is extremely rare and these costly changes might not have much of an impact.

The change in guidelines began in 2017, when the Joint Commission’s November newsletter was headlined by a special report around environmental factors in suicide rates.

The Joint Commission is the largest independent nonprofit organization that accredits and certifies more than 22,000 hospitals and health care organizations in the United States. It sets health care standards that are often incorporated into government and industry protocols. Hospitals typically seek its review every three years.
Vaccine arrives in Vermont; health care workers, long-term care residents get it first

The first 1,950 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine arrived in Vermont Monday — part of the 5,850 doses arriving this week.

The State Vaccine Depot and the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington each received 975 doses, sent as part of the initial nationwide shipments that followed the emergency use authorization issued by the Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 12. 

Gov. Phil Scott called the vaccine’s arrival “an important milestone and an essential step toward defeating a virus that’s devastated families and businesses throughout Vermont and around the globe. There is no better, safer or faster way to defeat this virus and work to rebuild our economy than a successful effort to make vaccines available to every single Vermonter. We are committed to working with our partners to get this done.”

NEK hospitals are vital to health care and the economy
Vermont Business Magazine

One of the Northeast Kingdom’s largest employers remains on sound financial ground.

Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital with 625 employees ended its fiscal year in good shape.

“Surprisingly good given what we were faced last spring,” said Shawn Tester, chief executive officer of the 25-bed hospital in St Johnsbury.

And the hospital’s chief financial officer went even further.

“Our year ending Sept. 30, 2020 was the sixth year in a row we had a positive operating margin and the ninth out of the last 10 years we’ve had a positive operating margin,” said CFO Bob Hersey.

Hersey said the hospital was able to rebound this year when its patient volumes bounced back once the state gave the go-ahead for elective surgeries to start back up. The state shut down elective surgeries in the early days of the pandemic as a preventive measure.

Young Philanthropist Lifts Local Causes, Spirits Amid Global Pandemic
Caledonia Record

Callum McGregor, 9, says he has all he needs and more. So he’s using his allowance to support others.

The young philanthropist first donated a portion of his saved-up allowance, $75, when an envelope at his family’s parish in St. Johnsbury tugged at his heart: it was a hunger relief drive for a faraway country.

“People need food to survive and it’s not really nice to just let people starve to death,” he said.
This spring he gave $75 to Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital.

The note he sent to health care workers and news of his donation were featured in the 2020 Annual Report of NVRH titled Resilience In A Global Pandemic.

Hospitals in the news
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