Mental Health During a Pandemic
by Emma Harrigan
Director of Policy Analysis and Development

COVID-19 has challenged us as individuals and as a system of care in so many ways. As the pandemic wears on, it is prompting more anxiety and depression. Many people are using alcohol or other substances as a response to COVID-19 stress, and the effects are amplified for communities of color and essential workers. Meanwhile, people have had to adapt to new ways of supporting their recovery in a world that requires social distancing. 

The good news is there are resources and coping mechanisms to help everyone through these challenges.

What is the scope of the mental health issue as it relates to COVID-19? 

The Kaiser Family Foundation released an issue brief in early February highlighting the impacts of the pandemic on mental health—more Americans are experiencing anxiety or depression in response to the pandemic.

  • During the pandemic, about 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, a share that has been largely consistent, up from one in ten adults who reported these symptoms from January to June 2019.
  • KFF Health Tracking Poll from July 2020 also found that many adults are reporting specific negative impacts on their mental health and well-being, such as difficulty sleeping (36%) or eating (32%), increases in alcohol consumption or substance use (12%), and worsening chronic conditions (12%), due to worry and stress over the coronavirus. 
  • The pandemic has disproportionately affected the health of communities of color. Black adults (48%) and Hispanic or Latino adults (46%) are more likely to report symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder than White adults (41%). Historically, these communities of color have faced challenges accessing mental health care.
  • Essential workers continue to face many challenges. including greater risk of contracting the Coronavirus than other workers. Compared to nonessential workers, essential workers are more likely to report symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder (42% vs. 30%), starting or increasing substance use (25% vs. 11%), and suicidal thoughts (22% vs. 8%) during the pandemic.”

Legislative Update
by Devon Green
VAHHS Vice President of Government Relations

Last Week
State COVID Relief Bill: The House advanced H.315, a $62 million mini-coronavirus relief fund (CRF) bill with the following:
  • $5 million to mental health needs
  • $500,000 to address health care disparities by enhancing data collection
  • $350,000 each to the Association of Africans Living in Vermont (AALV) and VT Refugee Resettlement Program (USCRI) 
The House Appropriations Committee did not include the House Health Care Committee’s request of $5 million in funding to expand the health care workforce, including $3 million in nurse and physician scholarships. This will likely go into the FY’22 budget.

Interstate Nurse Compact: The Senate Health and Welfare Committee advanced S.48, a bill that would allow Vermont to enter the Interstate Nurse Compact. VAHHS supports efforts to streamline licensing for nurses as a means of strengthening Vermont’s workforce.

Stem Cell Legislation: The Senate Health and Welfare Committee voted in favor of S.22, a bill that would require health care practitioners who administer stem cell products that are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to provide notice of this fact to their patients and in their advertisements, and to provide a disclosure form to each patient prior to administering any non-FDA-approved stem cell product. VAHHS supports this bill.  

Inpatient Mental Health: The House Health Care Committee passed H.46. The bill requires the following:
  • voluntary patient consent to the understanding that inpatient treatment may be on a locked unit 
  • DMH to collect information and report on data regarding the use of emergency involuntary procedures for patients admitted to a psychiatric unit regardless of whether the patient is under the care and custody of the DMH commissioner.
  • Reporting of emergency room delays for patients seeking mental health care in hospital settings until 2023
In the News
F.D.A. Clears Johnson & Johnson’s Shot, the Third Vaccine
for U.S.
The New York Times

The Food and Drug Administration on Saturday authorized Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use, beginning the rollout of millions of doses of a third effective vaccine that could reach Americans by early next week.

The announcement arrived at a critical moment, as the steep decline in coronavirus cases seems to have plateaued and millions of Americans are on waiting lists for shots.

Johnson & Johnson has pledged to provide the United States with 100 million doses by the end of June. When combined with the 600 million doses from the two-shot vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna slated to arrive by the end of July, there will be more than enough shots to cover any American adult who wants one.

65-plus registration opens Monday; Fully vaccinated allowed to gather with household

Vermont officials Tuesday said the next phase of COVID-19 vaccination registration for those 65 and older will open on Monday, March 1. And the governor has opened the way for fully vaccinated individuals to gather with one trusted household.

The registration for the 65-plus group, some 42,000 Vermonters, will open Monday at 8:15 a.m. People are encouraged to set up an account ahead of time. The next phase, those with underlying health conditions, is expected to open next in the coming weeks.

AHS Secretary Mike Smith says an estimated 91,000 Vermonters have received at least one shot and about half of those have received both shots. Vermont still ranks 10th nationally in its distribution of the vaccine per capita. “Our goal is to make it easier for Vermonters to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” said AHS Secretary Mike Smith.

Bottom Line: How COVID-19 Nearly Killed, Then Resuscitated, EMS Provider Garnet Health 
Seven Days

In September 2019, Ryan Ferris opened his new emergency medical services company, now called Garnet Health. Six months later, the business nearly flatlined. Why?

Its customer base virtually disappeared.

Garnet's ambulances and medical crews are licensed and equipped like those of any EMS rescue squad in Vermont, but they don't respond to 911 calls. Instead, they transport patients from one medical facility to another throughout New England and northern New York, provided those patients start or finish their trips in Vermont.

"When the pandemic hit, the hospitals didn't move patients unless it was absolutely necessary," explained Ferris, Garnet's cofounder, president and CEO. "In the EMS industry, you don't make money unless you have billable services, and billable services means patients on board."

Within weeks of COVID-19's arrival in Vermont, transports by the for-profit company, headquartered on the GlobalFoundries campus in Essex Junction, fell by half. For a time it looked like the business might succumb, and Ferris wasn't sure how to save it.

Springfield Hospital urges patients to get treatment
Valley News

Doctors in Springfield Hospital’s emergency department are encouraging people in need of medical treatment to come in for care.

The department saw a “significant drop” in patient visits last year, said Dr. Douglas Nilson, the department’s medical director, in an emailed statement. The COVID-19 pandemic also has caused some patients to delay regular checkups, causing chronic conditions to worsen, he said.

“We have seen people visit the emergency room with symptoms that they have had for a while and delayed care resulted in an ED visit when, if treated earlier in the primary care setting, the ED visit could have been potentially avoided,” Nilson said in an email.

Rutland Holiday Inn takes over as local vaccination site

After weeks of vaccinations at the Rutland Regional Medical Center, the hospital is closing its on-site clinic in favor of a new location that allows them to vaccinate even more people.

The Rutland Regional Medical Center Wednesday began vaccinating people at their new location, the Holiday Inn in Rutland Town.

“We are here at the Holiday Inn because we outgrew our space at the hospital,” said the hospital’s Leah Denton. She says all departments at the hospital worked together to move the clinic across town to the hotel. “We have social distancing, as you see, it’s very well spread out.”

Before, they could vaccinate between 210 and 220 people a day at the hospital, but in the hotel conference room the state is paying for, they can give doses to about 330 people, 12-hours a day, six days a week.

Hospitals in the News
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