From the President and CEO
Recovery and Building

by Jeff Tieman
VAHHS President and CEO

As I glanced over this week’s selection of VAHHS Update stories, I was struck by something profound. The first story is a Vermont Business Magazine feature of Southwestern Vermont Medical Center’s innovative effort to increase badly needed high-quality and affordable childcare capacity for their staff and their community. The second story is a WPTZ piece announcing the groundbreaking of an apartment building that will make dozens of new homes available to UVM Medical Center’s potential staff members who say they cannot accept jobs here for lack of available places to live.

Among our hospitals, stories like this are common but not all of them are featured in the news. Hospitals are doing amazing things to tackle challenges in their communities and strengthen the workforce, not because it’s the easy thing to do, but because it’s the right thing to do.

We have a workforce crisis across the state that is straining every sector of the economy. What makes it different for our hospitals is that, unlike other businesses, they cannot simply relocate out of state or adjust hours of operation or computerize core functions. Instead, they have an obligation to be available 24/7/365 in all weather, in all manner of crisis and without fail.

Some of our hospitals are particularly stressed right now as they begin to emerge from the pandemic and address the next set of challenges and opportunities. So they are sharpening their pencils, seeking creative solutions and leaning in to continued efforts to address community challenges. They do this because we are an entirely non-profit system designed and built to serve our patients and lift up our communities.

When criticism is directed at our hospitals, I hope some context can be considered: How are hospitals contributing to address childcare, housing, workforce, access and economic crises we face? How are hospitals working to prevent violence in their facilities and protect their patients and staff alike? How are hospitals learning from the pandemic and bringing those lessons forward to be even smarter and to offer even greater quality? How are hospitals working to move to value and preventive care?

Alongside community partners, hospitals are actively engaged in dozens of initiatives to address these and other challenges, and we are making steady progress. We are far from the end of the fallout from COVID-19, but our hospitals and our communities are still standing strong. Remember that Vermont led the nation in responding to the worst public health crisis in a century. That was because of our collaborative spirit, science-led approach and mission-based orientation.

This mentality will continue to serve Vermonters well, and position us for constant improvement. I was so proud to read these great stories of leadership because I know there are countless others. Let’s keep working to build each other up. We will all be better for it.
Legislative Update
Devon Green, VP of Government Relations

Thank you for supporting hospitals!
 
I’m very superstitious when it comes to the legislature. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s to knock on wood and to never proclaim anything as a win until the final gavel falls. This past week, however, two bills became law that will help our hospitals in very different, but hugely impactful ways.
 
COVID Regulatory Flexibilities: Act 85 extends much-needed regulatory flexibilities to help alleviate the current workforce crisis for health care providers and any subsequent COVID variants, including:

  • The Agency of Human Services can modify rules
  • The Green Mountain Care Board can waive rules and shall consider labor costs
  • Provider enrollment/credentialing requirements by Medicaid and commercial insurers remain relaxed
  • The Department of Financial Regulation can adopt rules re: insurance coverage for COVID
  • Out-of-state health care workers can work in a facility by registering with a licensing entity for up to six months—once working longer than six months, the health care worker needs a license
  • Out-of-state health care workers can provide telehealth without a license if they register with the licensing entity
  • Health care workers with recently expired (within three years) Vermont licenses can provide telehealth or work in a facility if they register with the licensing entity

This could not have happened so seamlessly without the health committee chairs, Sen. Lyons and Rep. Lippert, holding joint hearings and moving the bill along quickly. Thank you for your work! 
 
Prohibition of Firearms in Hospital: Gov. Scott signed S.4, a law that prohibits guns in hospitals and closes the “Charleston Loophole” on Friday. We appreciate Sen. Baruth taking up this issue and the chairs of the Judiciary Committees, Sen. Sears and Rep. Grad, moving this bill through the process. We really appreciate the willingness of both the legislature and governor’s office to come to a compromise on this bill while maintaining protection for our hospital workers, patients, and families.
In the News
Health care group plans to build day care for 125 children at former Bennington college campus
VTDigger

A Bennington health care group plans to build a child care center at the former Southern Vermont College campus with the help of $827,000 in congressional funding.

Southwestern Vermont Health Care, which operates Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington, plans to increase its child care slots by constructing a facility that can accommodate up to 125 children. That is twice the capacity of its existing day care, Learning Tree Child Care, which is licensed for 59 children from 6 weeks to 5 years old.

Learning Tree is struggling to cope with demand, fielding calls from prospective clients almost every day, said Kevin Dailey, the health care group’s vice president of administration and chief human resources officer.
Crews break ground on planned UVM Medical Center apartment unit
NBC 5

Carly O’Day, a registered nurse at UVMMC, is on a handful of apartment waitlists. She has until June and but isn't sure she will find something in time.

“For me, personally, I am looking to rent out a one bedroom because I am just in that point in my life where I don’t want to have roommates and I also have a dog," O'Day said. "it gets very pricey.”

The Emergency Department at UVMMC has lost 50% of their full time staff.
Such staff has been replaced with per-diem nurses and travel nurses.
The ED manager hopes the team can on-board more permanent staff.

“I have had nurses cancel their interviews. These are out of state nurses who have a virtual interview set up with us already, but when they start to investigate the market, they realize they can’t afford to come and cancel their interview,” said Kristin Baker, Nurse Manager at the Medical Center’s Emergency Department.
Vermont Business & Hospital Team Up to Send Medical Supplies to Ukraine
NECN

Gifford Medical Center in Randolph donated surgical gloves, hospital gowns, IV bags, bandages, and more — a small contribution to the massive needs of humanitarian aid agencies in Ukraine.

“Even though we’re sending a gift to people that we’re never going to meet, we know that that gift is going to make an impact,” said Ashley Lincoln of Gifford Medical Center. “Those medical supplies are so badly needed right now.”

Gifford Medical Center answered the call from one of its neighbors, an engineering firm called Applied Research Associates, which was looking to check off much-needed items from this list to be donated to Ukraine. ARA said the hospital’s access to large boxes of bulk medical supplies was vital to its collection drive.
State board keeps Rutland hospital waiting on its proposed price hike
VTDigger

A controversial proposal from Vermont’s second-largest hospital is in limbo, after regulators this week declined to vote on its request to raise its prices for services. 

The board is expected to vote in a future meeting, but a date has not been set yet.

Rutland Regional Medical Center executives hoped to charge the higher rates as early as April 1, but the board’s indecision is delaying these plans. 

“The longer this goes on, the less time we have to pivot,” Claudio Fort, the hospital’s chief executive and president, told the board. 

Rutland Regional executives say inflation and surging personnel costs will cause a projected $7.6 million operating loss in the current fiscal year. The only way to balance the budget, they argue, is to raise service charges paid by commercial insurers by 9% on top of 3.6% regulators approved at the beginning of the fiscal year.
Brattleboro Retreat launches Healthcare Professionals Program for caregivers in crisis
Eagle Times

The Brattleboro Retreat, a leading specialty psychiatric hospital for people of all ages located in Brattleboro is now accepting patients for its Healthcare Professionals Program.

Launched as a remote clinical service, the program offers partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programming for currently employed and former nurses, physicians, dentists, EMTs, social workers, LNAs/CNAs, therapists, technologists, and other health care professionals who experience PTSD, anxiety, depression, stress, or substance use disorder as consequences of their jobs.

In a group therapy format, health care professionals address their personal challenges exclusively among peers, other health care professionals who understand the pressures of providing health care. The program’s partial hospital option consists of five groups per day, five days per week, Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., while the intensive outpatient option features three groups per day, five mornings per week, Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Hospitals in the News
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