From Our Board Chair
by Steven R. Gordon

When I became chair of the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems (VAHHS) Board of Trustees, I never imagined our health care system navigating a global pandemic. Across the country, people are suffering from COVID-19—both the illness itself and the economic and social consequences.

In Vermont, we face the same set of struggles and are doing our best together to manage them. What makes us fortunate here is that we can work together in a way larger states cannot. We can gather all the hospitals around a single—and now ‘virtual’—table.

Every week we are bringing together hospital CEOs, Chief Medical and Nursing Officers and other leaders to identify and solve problems, prepare for possible surges and fortify our system to be sure it can work both during and after the pandemic.
Working closely together also entails on-the-ground coordination with other providers in the community to meet the needs of people where they are. This includes telemedicine and telehealth, which hospitals, doctors and other providers are increasingly employing to continue delivering care in a safe and effective way.
Legislative Update
by Devon Green
Vice President of Government Relations

Here’s something I never thought I’d say: the Vermont State House has gone fully virtual. What used to be crowded committee rooms and cafeteria conversations is now Zoom calls, YouTube, and voting apps. The Senate and House health care committees have been meeting jointly, which is an efficiency that is much appreciated right now. VAHHS has been laser-focused on tracking federal initiatives, but the state house has had some major movement lately.
State of Vermont Receives $1.25 Billion from CARES Act:  On Saturday, April 18th, Vermont received the $1.25 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) from the Federal CARES Act. For oversight purposes, the Joint Fiscal Committee will be accepting the funds in three tranches. The first tranche will be an emergency fund that could be spent by the Administration without additional legislative approval. The second tranche will be a fund for time-sensitive matters and would require spending approval by the Joint Fiscal Committee. The third tranche would go through the regular budgeting process, requiring approval by the full legislature. 

Many are still parsing out how the funding can and cannot be used. Currently, the funding cannot be used to reimburse a loss in state government revenue, but that standard may change over time or in the next version of a COVID-19 relief bill.

Senate Appropriations Considers Essential Workers Grant:  This week the Senate Appropriations Committee began working on legislation to create the Essential Workers Grant Program. The proposed program would provide grants up to $1,000 per month to individuals that perform essential jobs that expose them to an elevated risk of contracting COVID-19 and earn less than $25 per hour. An employee must work for an employer deemed essential as defined by the legislation, and that employer must apply to the program for its employees to receive the benefit. Nursing home and home health employees would be exempt from the $25 per hour cap. The proposal would fund the program for three months and would cost an estimated   $89 million. The committee will continue reviewing the proposal next week.   The most recent draft of the proposal is available  here .
In the News
Latest Updates on the Coronavirus

As health authorities and hospitals address the growing spread of the COVID-19 virus, VTDigger is keeping up with all of the latest news and information you need to understand the magnitude of the crisis. Here you'll find resources for coping with the coronavirus outbreak, and updates on financial impacts and volunteer efforts.

Darn Tough donates 10,000 pairs of socks to UVM Health Network
My NBC 5

One local company is hoping to help make local health care workers' long hours a bit more comfortable.

Darn Tough Vermont donated 10,000 pairs of socks to UVM Health Network on Wednesday. Those socks, donated at Central Vermont Medical Center, will be distributed to hospitals across the state.

"Our health heroes are on the front lines — and on their feet — all day, every day," said Judy Peterson, president and COO for UVM Health Network. "From a grateful workforce, thanks to everyone at Darn Tough for the work you do and for your remarkable generosity."

'You're all heroes': UVM Medical Center president says Vermont avoided expected COVID-19 surge
Burlington Free Press

University of Vermont Medical Center President Dr. Stephen Leffler called Vermont residents "heroes" for participating in measures meant to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

Leffler's comments came during a news conference Wednesday with Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger while talking about the recent progress he's seen at the the hospital.

As of Wednesday, the hospital had 10 COVID-19-positive patients, four under investigation, and no patients on ventilators.

"You're all heroes because you've saved lives," Leffler said.

Leffler said he believes Vermont avoided the expected surge in this first phase of COVID-19 because of the strict measures limiting Vermonters' movement and contact. The measures helped slow the number of new cases so hospitals did not get overwhelmed, and it allowed health care professionals to begin preparing for the next phase: reopening the state.

"I think it's extremely likely that we're going to see spikes and surges in cases around that," Leffler said. "We're preparing for that."

The Bright Side: Burlington eateries make meals for frontline workers

As the Covid-19 crisis began to descend upon Vermont, Burlington nurse Sheramy Tsai noticed something going on in other communities that she thought ought to happen here. People across the country were raising money to buy meals from local restaurants, then donating those meals to frontline workers at the hospital.

“This was a slam dunk for me,” Tsai said. “We’re helping two frontline workers, really: frontline workers at the hospital, and frontline workers in the food industry.”

As a former hospital nurse (and current school nurse), Tsai said she knows how grueling long shifts at the hospital can be, even without a pandemic. She thought a project that gave local businesses a much-needed boost while feeding the city’s health care workers might be the perfect fit for Burlington.

So a few days into the crisis, Tsai reached out to the organizers of Frontline Foods, a San Francisco-based effort to connect local restaurants with local hospitals, and met them online to learn how to get the project off the ground in Vermont.

Vermont company repurposes snorkeling gear into PPE

Copley Hospital has rolled out a new From people in their homes to small businesses to major manufacturers, there's a huge effort to make masks to protect against the coronavirus. Our Olivia Lyons shows you how one newly designed mask is being put to the test in a local hospital.

The Southwestern Vermont Medical Center has teamed up with Mack Molding to take a deep dive into creating new masks for hospital workers.

"It was a four-week push to get as many masks up to Vermont as we could," said Adam Lehman of Synectic.

When the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center realized they might not have enough PPE, they reached out to Mack Molding in Arlington to see if they could come up with something to help out.

"The hospital had really called us and said, 'Hey, at this point in time we are running out of masks and we need masks in a couple of weeks. We need something we can give to our employees to protect them,'" Lehman said.