Message from the CEO
Reject Blame and Frustration and Be Kind
by Jeff Tieman
VAHHS President and CEO

What a day. What a week. What a month. What a YEAR. I’ll bet you’ve made these exclamations more than once in 2020. I know I have. We have entered the final month of likely the most difficult and strange year in most of our lives, and I’m sure there are still more twists and turns in store for us before the ball drops on New Year’s Eve.

There is no denying that these last several weeks have been among the hardest since the pandemic first hit Vermont back in March. We’re managing an ongoing surge in cases; there are outbreaks across the state in long-term care facilities; health care providers are burned out; teachers and school administrators are working long hours to keep our students safe and schools open; testing is ramping up and contract tracers are increasing in numbers; our resorts and restaurants are feeling the effects of fewer patrons and tourists and that’s only a fraction of the hardship. Just writing this list is hard.

Throughout this pandemic, one thing that has been a bright light to me is our kindness towards one another. The fact is, none of us has any real world experience responding to a global pandemic. Sure, many of us have experience in crisis and emergency response, but we know from our training that each situation presents its own unique set of circumstances that require us to assess, adapt, plan, execute and adjust. That’s what I’ve witnessed time and again from Vermonters as this pandemic has unfolded. We can be very proud of our efforts to date.

Unfortunately, though, what I’m observing more of these days, as the pandemic rages on, is not so worthy of pride and that is: frustration and blame. I know so many of us are at our wits' end and each mistake, mishap or bit of misinformation feels like a big deal—and, sometimes it is. Most of the time, however, it’s the result of too few people working too many hours to tackle big challenges we’ve never encountered before.

Whether it’s our testing protocols, tracing strategy, surge plans, food distribution work, school closure plans, social gathering guidelines or our upcoming vaccine distribution strategy, I know first-hand the competent and caring folks behind these efforts are doing very good and thorough work. And that work takes place under incredibly challenging conditions to continue to deliver a response that will save lives, keep our children in school and keep our economy going. Most have been at this since the onset of the pandemic without relief or rest.

When I read recent news stories, whether they are here at home or from afar, about testing snafus, long lines at grocery stores, frustration from parents about school, I immediately think of the individuals behind those challenges and my heart goes out, because I know they are doing their very best in an ever-changing and immensely complex environment. There are fewer things more distracting and demoralizing to those on the front lines leading our pandemic response than criticism from the bleachers.

So, my ask is this: take a deep breath. Think before you speak. Consider that we are truly all in this together and none of us is exempt from the disruption, the stress and even the pain of this pandemic. Be kind. Be especially kind to hospital and health care workers, teachers, state leaders, contact tracers, community leaders, your neighbors, friends and family and yourself.

These next weeks and months will continue to test our will and our resolve, but we simply
cannot allow ourselves to lash out. We must rise above the blame and frustration and commit to supporting those we are counting on to lead us through. I know Vermonters are up to the challenge. We have been blazing the path and lighting the way forward since the beginning.

Jeff Tieman
VAHHS President and CEO
In the News
Burlington sees steady uptick in COVID cases

Burlington continues to see a steady uptick in COVID cases.

Dr. Stephen Leffler from the UVM Medical Center provided an update on Wednesday at the city’s press conference. Leffler says there are currently 19 COVID patients in the hospital.

He says they haven’t seen numbers like this since April when there were 20 COVID patients in the hospital.

However, Leffler says patients are getting better treatment and recovering faster than they were back in April.

“In mid-April, we had multiple people in the ICU. We had people on ventilators. We had people in the hospital who were very sick. Right now, we have only one person in the ICU, and the people who are going to our ICU, typically we’re able to get them better and back out to the floor pretty quickly. We have no one right now on ventilators and we have good hospital capacity,” Leffler said.

Dr. Leffler says he attributes this to doctors now having a better understanding of the coronavirus and knowing how to better care for patients. He also says there’s now enough PPE in the hospitals for staff.

More COVID testing sites are opening up in Burlington.
Vermont Health Officials To Thanksgiving Gatherers: 'Quarantine, Get Tested'

"Quarantine, get tested."

It's the message state health officials have for anyone who participated in multi-household gatherings over the Thanksgiving weekend.

This hour, we get an update from the Vermont Department of Health and answer your COVID-19 questions.
CVMC seeing surge in COVID patients

The Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin, a hospital in the middle of one of the state’s COVID-19 hotspots, is seeing a surge in cases.

The health department says Washington and Orange Counties have seen a slight decrease in virus cases, with 38 cases split between the two today. As of Thursday morning, CVMC had six hospitalized patients with none in the ICU. Officials say they’re also seeing more cases in their acute respiratory clinic.

Though the health department cases are going down, the hospital hasn’t yet seen the decrease. Anna Noonan, CVMC’s president, says they’ve been expecting cases to rise and are well stocked with PPE and staff. “We anticipated this increase, we anticipated our numbers to increase. We’ve planned accordingly. We’ve prepared both the acute care and our practices to be ready for more numbers for more patients that may seek medical care,” she said. 
Vermont Health Care System Encourages Sharing Love During the Holidays By Keeping Each Other Safe
Vermont Business Magazine

VAHHS is Vermont’s association of non-profit hospitals and health systems and we work to ensure our health care system is strong and stable and ready to respond to anything – including a global pandemic. The holidays are upon us and, unfortunately, so is a new wave of COVID-19 cases in Vermont. It’s very important for Vermonters to be vigilant about stopping the spread. For most of us, that means we’ll have to reimagine our holiday celebrations.

Governor Phil Scott is committed to following the data and science as we respond and work to flatten the curve. The State has prohibited gatherings that include more than one household, whether or not they occur outdoors. While this new restriction may seem daunting—especially with the holidays right around the corner—it is imperative to follow it in order to avoid further COVID escalation in Vermont.

Dr. Mark Levine, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health said the rising number of cases is made up of outbreaks stemming from close family and friends socializing, many times around food and alcohol, where social distancing and mask-wearing break down.
Lives Are On the Line': Vermont Workers Seek More Protections From COVID-19

State records show that more than 200 workers have filed pandemic-related complaints at the Vermont Department of Labor over the last eight months, but none of the alleged workplace safety violations has resulted in an enforcement action against an employer.

A year ago, most people probably wouldn’t have included grocery store cashiers or elementary school teachers on their lists of most dangerous jobs. The threat of COVID-19, however, has turned ordinary workplaces into public health hazards.

Records requested by VPR show that between March and October of 2020, at least 220 workers filed pandemic-related safety complaints with the Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

On A Precipice': After Quiet Spring, NEK Starts Seeing COVID And Its Impacts

For most of the pandemic, Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom had relatively few cases of COVID-19. But last month, that changed.

Until a few weeks ago, Jason Brueck felt relatively safe from COVID-19. He’s a resident of Newport, a father of three, and runs an outdoor learning program in Derby. Taking precautions for the camp he ran over the summer felt surreal.

“Behaving like, with masks and all this other kind of stuff, and the sanitizing... you're in the middle of a pandemic when it's essentially not happening around you,” he said.

From the onset of the pandemic until mid-October, only 65 positive cases of COVID-19 had been identified in the Northeast Kingdom, according to the Vermont Department of Health. Six cases in Essex County, 35 in Caledonia, and 24 in Orleans.

With COVID-19 Vaccines On The Horizon, Vermont Prepares To Distribute Shots

The first COVID-19 vaccines could be in Vermont in just a few weeks. The state health department says an initial supply of the shots could be in its warehouse by Dec. 15.

The early supplies of the vaccine will be limited, which means the state must decide who gets the first shots. Public health officials will face an even greater task in the coming months: getting vaccines to the broader population and convincing them to get inoculated.

The FDA is currently reviewing two vaccines that appear to be more than 90% effective.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told CBS on Monday that if the FDA signs off on them, distribution would begin immediately.

"We’ll ship within 24 hours of FDA authorization, so we could be seeing both of these vaccines out and getting into people’s arms before Christmas,” Azar said.

People in the News