Legislative Update
By Devon Green
Vice President of Government Relations

April is usually a make or break month at the legislature—as in, you try to make it through the month without it breaking you. This year feels particularly make or break not only at the legislature, but also with Vermont’s race to vaccinate against the emergence of new variants. With that in mind, please check out the VAHHS information page on vaccines and spread the word!

Last Week

Hospital Financials: VAHHS and the Green Mountain Care Board testified on the current state of financial uncertainty faced by hospitals during COVID. Right now, hospitals have a $3.2 million operating margin on a $2.4 billion hospital system. VAHHS pointed out that this trend was unsustainable and that hospitals need to be able to reinvest in their facilities, health care innovation and health care reform. Both the Green Mountain Care Board and VAHHS recommended that federal funds under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) target health care reform projects.

Provider Reimbursement Options: In accordance with Act 159, the Green Mountain Care Board presented options to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee to increase equity in reimbursement amounts among providers. The Green Mountain Care Board presented three options: (1) setting health system budgets; (2) setting reimbursement parameters and limiting provider growth rates, similar to Vermont’s current hospital budget process; (3) fee-for-service rate setting. The GMCB testified that fee-for-service rate setting would be counter to Vermont’s health care reform efforts. The Senate Health and Welfare Committee is interested in exploring options (1) and (2) further.

This Week
Mental Health Data Collection and Disclosures: The Senate Health and Welfare Committee will consider a bill requiring inpatient psychiatric units to inform patients that the units are locked and that the patients can request to change their legal status from involuntary to voluntary. The bill also would expand reporting on emergency department delays for patients seeking mental health care. 

COVID Relief Bill: The House will take up the COVID Relief Bill with the addition of the provision that would allow VITL and VDH to share immunization data, a provision that was stripped out of a previous bill, to inform COVID vaccination. VAHHS supports this measure.
In the News
BMH/CCV Graduate 5th Class of Medical Assistants
Press Release

Brattleboro Memorial Hospital (BMH) and Community College of Vermont – Brattleboro (CCV) recently held a virtual graduation ceremony for the students enrolled in the college’s accelerated College to Career medical assisting program.

The nine students included: Jennifer Winte, Olivia Rhodes, Susan Jones, Morgan Gero, Allison Fiske, Hannah Buffum, Stephen Cannon, Emily Harvey, and Mariah Nichols.

Due to COVID-19 safety protocols, students’ family and friends were unable to attend the in-person event, but watched via a live Zoom feed alongside several members of CCV and BMH administration.

Eilidh Pederson, BMH Chief Operating Officer began by thanking the graduates for their dedication to the program, “Each of you are a real asset to our hospital. Your commitment and dedication to BMH helps us to deliver high quality care to our patients, and strengthens the health of our community.”

Joyce Judy, CCV President, echoed Pederson’s sentiments and lauded the graduates for their impressive progress throughout the accelerated program. “Fourteen weeks ago, you were likely overwhelmed and nervous about embarking on this journey. As you sit here today, I’m sure you can confidently say you are excited and ready to get to work.”

‘End of the line’ outreach: Officials seek to increase Covid vaccination rates in remote Essex County

The village of Beecher Falls isn’t technically in the coverage area for Jesse Dimick, the vaccine clinic coordinator for Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital.

The St. Johnsbury hospital is a 90-minute drive from the village, where roughly 200 residents live in a corner of the state wedged between the Canadian and New Hampshire borders.

It’s “about as remote as it gets,” Dimick said. But there’s also no closer Vermont hospital.

So on Monday, Dimick made the trip and stood up a Covid-19 vaccine clinic at the Beecher Falls volunteer fire department, which stands within sight of the U.S. Customs port of entry.

Dimick is one of a host of health care workers and government officials who are working to ensure that the state’s most isolated Northeast Kingdom residents can get a Covid-19 vaccine. Just 14% of Essex County residents have been fully vaccinated, compared to 21% of the state overall. The county has the lowest inoculation rate across every age bracket.

On Tuesday, Human Services Secretary Mike Smith acknowledged the “disparity between the other counties” and Essex. “We're keeping an eye on that and trying to figure out what's going on,” he said.

Vermont hospital creates end-of-day vaccine standby list

Vermonters who are still waiting to receive a COVID-19 vaccine may be able to sign up for one sooner than they may have hoped.

"There is always someone who will happily take a dose," said Frances Sun, with Rutland Regional Medical Center.

Doses aren't going to waste at Rutland Regional Medical Center thanks to the hospital's end-of-day vaccine standby list.

"It started out as an excel spreadsheet and its now morphed into this internet form," said Sun.

The waitlist is refreshed every Monday and is first-come, first-serve.

Sun said there are more than 1,000 people in line, hoping to get a call asking if they'd like one of the handful of Pfizer doses that are typically leftover at the end of the day.

"It's accessible to everybody. Rather than having to know somebody, anyone can sign up which is great," said Sun.
You’re pregnant. Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe? Yes, says UVM expert
My Champlain Valley

While many pregnant women have received the COVID-19 vaccine, there is limited data about how safe the shots are for expectant mothers and their babies, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Kelley McLean, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at the University of Vermont Medical Center, says she has fielded a lot of questions from women about whether they should get the vaccine when they are pregnant.

McClean says that while getting vaccinated is a personal decision, she recommends it, adding that pregnant women are 3 to 4 times more likely to get sick.

“I am recommending to women that they strongly consider the vaccine,” she says. “I do know that COVID and pregnancy is not safe. And any concern about the vaccines in pregnancy is entirely theoretical because we have not seen it.”

According to McLean, women are also concerned about the timing of the shots. She says because the risk of miscarriage is highest in the first trimester, she recommends avoiding receiving the vaccine during those first three months of pregnancy “primary so that women don’t feel like two are connected.”

Record Covid cases driven by younger Vermonters
The Mountain Times

Vermont reported 251 new Covid cases Friday, March 26, the highest ever one-day total and a significant rise over recent trends which had plateaued around 100 cases per day.

“This is a concerning number of new cases and should not be dismissed,” said Dr. Mark Levine, state health commissioner, at the Covid-19 press conference, Tuesday, March 30 .

“Our strides in vaccination, the beginning of spring, hope for the future, may be enticing us to take additional risks — and such risks may be seen as more acceptable to some now that our most vulnerable Vermonters are protected with vaccination. But wanting the pandemic to be over and it actually being over are not the same thing,” he said.

Half of the new Covid cases over the past two weeks were identified in people under 30, which Levine attributed to multiple reasons: Young people being more mobile and social, warmer weather encouraging activity, and the spread of the variant, particularly on the University of Vermont’s college campus.

Editorial: Did you get your vaccine?
Sun Community News

We're not sure who first said it, but it bears repeating: "There's nothing more important than our good health - that's our principal capital asset."

The Sun-Eagle's editor, who happens to be over the age of 65, is pleased to report that he received the first of two coronavirus vaccine doses, for his age group, March 25.

At the officially designated state of Vermont vaccine center, located at Middlebury's American Legion Post near U.S. Route 7, he joined 75 other masked, local residents lining up to receive their doses, too.

The editor will receive his second injection next month and is confident in the excellent and caring health service provided by UVM Porter Medical Center nurses and local EMT volunteers helping at the Legion post.

Our readers, of all ages, should be assured that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.

Don't just take our word for this statement: the considerable scientific expertise of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stands behind it.

Hospitals in the News
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