Legislative Update
by Devon Green
VAHHS Vice President of Government Relations

There’s always a part of the session where I’m reminded that advocating for hospitals goes beyond health care. That happened this week as I found myself testifying in the House Transportation Committee on travel demand management plans (TDMs). The proposed legislation requires all large employers to provide financial incentives for carpooling and telecommuting. I had the opportunity to team up with two of my most talented health care colleagues Laura Pelosi, representing the Vermont Health Care Association, and Jill Mazza Olson, representing the VNAs of Vermont. We asked for an exemption for 24-hour health care facilities because our staffing needs and scheduling practices make these sorts of incentives unmanageable, especially in rural areas. Resources would be better spent on supporting H.723 , which expands telehealth so that patients do not have to drive long distances unnecessarily to see specialists. 

Our hospitals touch on so many different advocacy areas from workforce to environment to community development. I feel privileged to represent Vermont’s hospitals on all of these fronts and equally lucky to work with some of the smartest colleagues around.

In the News
Gifford among ERs feeling the strain from psychiatric wait times
VT Digger

One-quarter of the emergency department staff members at Gifford Medical Center are considering leaving their jobs due to the stress of caring for patients in psychiatric crisis, the department’s clinical nurse coordinator told state legislators at a recent forum at the Randolph hospital.

While emergency department staff are trained to triage patients to move them on to the next level of care — or send them home — within hours, psychiatric patients sometimes must stay in the emergency department for days until they can be transferred elsewhere.

While they wait, such patients sometimes lash out at staff members, hitting, kicking and spitting at them, and causing injuries such as sprains and strains, said Jamie Cushman, who works and oversees other nurses in Gifford’s emergency department. Some patients direct verbal threats or sexual comments at staff members who are caring for them.

The providers “feel their work is becoming akin to working in a war zone,” Cushman said during the legislative forum at Gifford last month.

Health information sharing and options for Vermonters
VT Digger

The Vermont Health Information Exchange keeps health records for Vermonters in one secure place so participating providers can view the same information whether they are in Burlington or Bennington. For providers using different electronic medical records systems, the Vermont Health Information Exchange offers a more efficient way to share information than traditional methods like phone or fax. Sharing health information puts providers on the same page and that can mean better care for patients.

On March 1, 2020, Vermonters will no longer need to sign-up to participate and allow their providers to view their record – this will happen automatically. However, Vermonters who do not want their providers to have access to their health records in the Vermont Health Information Exchange can choose not to have their records shared. This is called opting out.

UVM researcher leads fight against rural opioid crisis
VT Digger

At Christmas this past December, Stacey Sigmon and her brother sat down together in their hometown of Faith, North Carolina, and made a list.

Together, the two came up with at least 30 people they knew personally who died from either a heroin or prescription opioid overdose.

Sigmon is a clinical researcher at the University of Vermont. Her field of study is behavioral pharmacology, a discipline of psychology that studies the intersection of drugs and medications with human behavior.

“We’re all sensitive to reinforcement, whether it’s cocaine or opiates or food,” she said. “For me, it’s potato chips.”

As Sigmon was starting her research career at UVM and finishing postdoctoral work at Johns Hopkins University in the 2000s, she witnessed opioid and heroin use explode from the urban centers of the U.S. into rural areas in both Vermont and her hometown of Faith.

“Some amazing efforts have been made in Vermont on all fronts and by all players in expanding treatment capacity,” she said. “But in rural counties, they still tend to lag behind in treatment availability. And yet I think they tend to surpass urban areas in opiate related overdoses per capita.”

$150 million price tag sets back new psychiatric facility
VT Digger

An unexpectedly high price tag will delay construction of a proposed 25-bed psychiatric facility at the Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin. 

Estimates for the project, which included upgrades to the hospital, came in at $150 million. 

At a stakeholder meeting last week, leaders from Central Vermont Medical Center offered a detailed description of the 55,600-square-foot renovation, which was to include a parking garage, roof gardens, and relocated emergency rooms. They concluded the presentation by announcing that they would be redesigning those plans. 

That decision sets the project back nearly two years with an anticipated open date of 2024. A significant portion of the $1.2 million in planning costs will also go by the boards. 

John Brumsted, CEO of the University of Vermont Health Network, described the setback as a normal part of the development process. “What has come forward is a plan that's too expensive,” he said. “So like almost every building project I've ever been in, it's at a point where we have to go back and match up what's been designed with what’s affordable.” 

“Bridge To Brattleboro” workforce initiative recruits potential Vermonters
VT Digger

On January 27th, 11 students from Franklin Pierce University participated in job shadows with Brattleboro employers through an initiative of the Community Equity Collaborative Diverse Workforce Development Committee. Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, as co-chair of the group, hosted the “Bridge to Brattleboro” initiative with the Rindge, NH University. Bridge to Brattleboro is designed to reach diverse college students outside of Windham County, and recruit them to participate in job shadowing, site visits, and informational interviews with local employers, as well as community development and social networking opportunities. The intent of the program is to encourage and support young people, especially young people of color, to choose Brattleboro as their place of work and residence.

Brattleboro Town Manager Peter Elwell, a long-serving member of the Community Equity Collaborative and Diverse Workforce Development Committee, commented that “the Town actively supports the Bridge to Brattleboro program because we think it is important not just for the students who participate, but also for businesses in Brattleboro and the overall vitality of our community. The students from Franklin Pierce University were impressive and we saw substantive connections made between those students and the participating employers.”

People in the News
Mark Your Calendar!
Every other Tuesday, February 18-June 23rd, 6:00 p.m.
Trinity Episcopal Church, Swanton

Tuesday, February 25, 4 p.m.
BMH Brew Barry Conference Center, Brattleboro

Wednesday, February 26, 5:30 p.m.
Milne Public Library, Williamstown, MA

Closes March 6, 4 p.m. with a community-focused conversation on mental health
Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital

Thursday, March 19
Hilton Lake Champlain, Burlington

Wednesday, March 25
Hilton DoubleTree, Burlington