Legislative Update
By Devon Green
Vice President of Government Relations

Although the ink is barely dry, the Vermont Senate is taking full advantage of the $1.3 billion expected to come to Vermont from the latest federal COVID relief package, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). On Friday, senators advanced a state COVID relief bill with $63 million in federal funding. Unlike the last round of funding, which needed to be spent in a matter of months, the expiration date for ARPA funding is by the end of 2024. As discussions progress, VAHHS will continue to advocate for workforce initiatives, mental health resources and broadband connectivity.

Last Week

16-Bed Secure Residential Facility: Despite a close vote in the House Health Care Committee recommending an eight-bed facility, the House Corrections and Institutions Committee allocated $11.6 million for construction of a 16-bed secure recovery residence to replace the Middlesex Therapeutic Community Residence. The bill also requires the Department of Mental Health to do a bed needs assessment for all levels of care in the mental health system and an analysis of opportunities from federal funding under ARPA. A huge thank you to our Emergency Department Directors who sent a letter of support for the 16-bed facility—your advocacy was very important.

Regulatory Flexibilities: The House and Senate passed S.117, which extends many of the current COVID-19 regulatory flexibilities until the end of March 2022. For a summary of regulatory flexibilities, go here. One last-minute change was to strip out a provision allowing for the sharing of immunization data between the Vermont Department of Health and the Vermont Information Technology Leaders in an amendment by Rep. Vicki Strong. The bill goes to the governor’s desk just in time for his signature, ensuring that the current end-of-March deadline does not run out. 

Prohibition of Firearms in Hospitals: The Senate passed S.30, which prohibits firearms from hospital buildings and would have hospitals post signs at all public entrances. It now heads to the House. Again, a huge thank you to health care providers for your stories and testimony supporting this important legislation.  

In the News
Vaccine schedule shows all adult Vermonters eligible by April 19

All adult Vermonters will be eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine by April 19, Gov. Phil Scott announced Friday.

Appointments will open on a staggered basis for people in different age groups over the next five weeks. Scott laid out the following schedule:

  • Thursday, March 25: 60 and older
  • Monday, March 29: 50 and older
  • Monday, April 5: 40 and older
  • Monday, April 12: 30 and older
  • Monday, April 19: 16 and older

Scott said this new schedule would lead to most people who want to be vaccinated getting both doses around June, on track for a return to normalcy by the Fourth of July, more than a “small cookout with friends and family,” he said.

“To put a finer point on it for high school seniors, this timeline means that in June, if we have the vaccination uptake we need, you should be able to have a more traditional graduation and celebrate what you've accomplished with your friends and family,” he said.

'I'm What This Guy Has': A Doctor Reflects On Treating Vt.'s First COVID-19 Patient

On March 7, 2020, the Vermont Department of Health announced the state’s first case of COVID-19. It was in Bennington County, at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. The patient was one of Dr. Marinshine Gentler’s.

Early in 2021, VPR reporters began reaching out to family members of Vermonters who died after contracting COVID-19. This is the second in a series of stories about their lives and what they left behind. Watch VPR.org for three more stories throughout the week. Find stories and memories of those lost from their loved ones, here.

“The first one is always going to be a surprise,” she said in an interview, “but I thought it would all start in Chittenden County.”

Gentler is an internal medicine doctor at the 99-bed Southern Vermont hospital. She says they provide the best care they can there, but sometimes, if a patient’s really sick, they’ll send them to a bigger hospital.

“And so I inquired about this, about sending [the first COVID patient] elsewhere. And it was so new that the responses that I got from every place that I called were, ‘We can't help you,’” Gentler said.

Not because they didn’t want to, she said, but because no one was prepared to move a patient with this novel infectious disease. So it was all left to her and her colleagues. That, she said, was terrifying.

“I just remember feeling like ... I'm what this guy has right now.”

UVM Medical Center pushing forward with AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine trial

A number of European countries have suspended use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, over reports of dangerous blood clots in some recipients.

The University of Vermont Medical Center is still looking at the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine through its clinical trial, which began in November.

"We have not seen anything like this at all in the Vermont population," says Dr. Beth Kirkpatrick, director of the UVM vaccine testing center and Infectious disease physician.

Kirkpatrick says she isn't sounding the alarm over the reports.

As of Monday, there have been 37 reports out of more than 17 million people vaccinated in the European Union and Britain.

Countries including Spain, Germany, France and Italy have temporarily suspended their use of the AstraZeneca vaccine as they take time to investigate.

AstraZeneca released a statement on Sunday, insisting its vaccine is safe and there is no evidence the shot is to blame.

Rutland County leads state in vaccinating residents

Rutland County is leading the rest of the state when it comes to getting residents vaccinated. Rutland Regional Medical Center and other health care organizations say they are working hard to reach residents, telling them vaccination is the best way to end the pandemic.

Jonathan Reynolds of Rutland Regional Medical Center says when COVID-19 vaccinations began -- the hospital hired extra staff and prepared to vaccinate almost sixty-thousand people as quickly as possible. “Folks that live within Rutland County are eager to get vaccinated,” Reynolds said.

The hospital has since moved its clinic to a larger space at the Holiday Inn to administer more shots at once. Reynolds says the hotel is easier for people to get to, increasing the likelihood that people will show up. “Each week the allocations do continue to increase and that’s really a benefit that we have seen from the federal government,” he said.

A couple of hundred extra doses each week really adds up and Rutland County residents are signing up to get them seven days a week. “They know this is the way out of the pandemic. Rutland County somewhat has an older demographic than the rest of the state, but overall I think people just realize the utility of the vaccine,” Reynolds said.

UVM conducting study on COVID long-haulers

One year after the first Vermonters contracted coronavirus, some of those people still feel extremely sick. Now, a team of doctors at the UVM Medical Center is conducting a study to find out why.

“I felt brushed off. I felt like, what I’m feeling isn’t real. And for me, it was very real,” said Abby Rice.

Months after the 45-year-old contracted COVID-19, she says doctors doubted her debilitating symptoms. “‘You sound or look okay on paper, but sorry, you’re not feeling well. It’s probably stress.’” Rice recalls them saying.

She was one of the first Vermonters diagnosed with COVID-19 last March. When the headaches, body pains, and fatigue became so severe, she struggled to instruct her Zumba classes. The Essex Junction woman says life became lackluster and she lost her sense of self. “I went from a really active lifestyle to barely able to take much of a walk,” she said.

CISO outlines additional cybersecurity challenges of working in a rural hospital

Among growing cyberthreats in healthcare, a rural Vermont hospital faces additional challenges in navigating the cybersecurity landscape with limited resources.

Kate Pierce, CIO and chief information security officer of Newport, Vt.-based North Country Hospital, told Becker's it is difficult to find enough cybersecurity experts and enough talent with the education to meet evolving cyber trends in a remote location.

North Country Hospital is a critical access hospital, and the community is very dependent on its facilities, as it owns nearly every practice in the area.

Ms. Pierce said her team meets regularly to address security issues. However, competing priorities with COVID-19 and meeting telehealth needs, among other factors, have stretched her department thin.

Increased investments in community health coming to
Island Pond
Newport Dispatch News

Increased investments in community health will be coming to Island Pond and St. Johnsbury with the addition of RiseVT, the prevention program of OneCare Vermont, and its Amplify Grant program.

Led by Jen Grant, RiseVT Program Manager at Northern Counties Health Care, Amplify Grants are intended to provide financial support to local projects that focus on key health and wellness priorities, like promoting walkable communities, supporting nutrition education, increasing opportunities for physical activity, improving stress management, enhancing support for breastfeeding, or supporting tobacco-free environments.

Grant will work with a team of community members to seek out and expand opportunities for everyone to get active, eat well, and enjoy local connections in St. Johnsbury and Island Pond.

“RiseVT has placed program managers at hospitals and health centers across Vermont with the goal of working with local stakeholders across all sectors of the community to invest in local health and wellness initiatives,” said Marissa Parisi, Executive Director of RiseVT.

Hospital leaders accuse Vermont regulatory board of overreach

Vermont hospital CEOs have accused the Green Mountain Care Board, the state's regulatory body for hospitals, of overreach after they requested reduced oversight during the pandemic, according to a March 19 VTDigger report.

The board declined to eliminate the hospital budget process entirely, as the hospital leaders requested, resulting in debates on whether the increased cost and responsibilities taken on amid the pandemic merited leniency from regulators.

The hospital budget process requires each facility to present their finances, and the board can cap the amount of revenue a hospital expects to make to limit healthcare costs for Vermonters.

Healthcare facilities have struggled during the pandemic, but some Vermont hospitals are in better financial shape than the years prior, the report said.

Hospitals in the News
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