Legislative Update
by Devon Green
Vice President of Government Relations

Legislative Update
It feels unnatural to be doing a legislative update at the end of June, but bills continue to pass thanks to the magic of Zoom and YouTube. Legislators are working diligently, with an eye towards recessing for a July break at the end of this week.  

In further lessening of COVID-19 related restrictions, Governor Scott announced new hospital visitation policies, which can be found  here . The policy generally allows at least one visitor per patient. Hospitals can be more restrictive as required by changing circumstances, but should continue to allow one support person for those patients that are cognitively impaired or would otherwise have difficulty accessing health care on their own.  

Last week
Health Care Provider Stabilization Program:  The House passed a  bill  that would authorize   $250 million in health care provider stabilization grants from the Coronavirus Relief Fund. The Agency of Human Services would administer this grant program though a needs-based application process. The Senate reduced the House-proposed $250 million to  $165 million for health care provider stabilization, and will continue their discussion this week.  
Physician Assistant Licensure:  Legislation  that changes physician assistant licensure requirements from supervision to a practice agreement has passed the Senate. The bill will now go to the governor’s desk. The changes are set to go into effect on July 1, 2020. At this time, the Board of Medical Practice has informed VAHHS that new licenses should be submitted consistent with the statute, but existing documentation will remain valid until the renewal.

Licensure of Physicians and Podiatrists:  New  requirements  for hospital disciplinary reporting have passed the House and will go to the governor’s desk. For more information, please see the VAHHS bill review, here .

“Skinny” Budget:  The Senate passed  H.961 , a bill that continues fiscal year 2020 level spending through September 30. The bill also includes several Coronavirus Relief Fund appropriations towards schools, including higher education.

This Week

Health Care Provider Stabilization Program:  Senate Health and Welfare and Senate Appropriations will be working to pass a Health Care Provider Stabilization Program using Coronavirus Relief Funds. As of now, the amount the Senate is considering is $165 million, $85 million less than the proposal from the House.  

Extension of COVID-19 Regulatory Flexibilities:  Senate Health and Welfare will be looking at a  bill  that extends certain regulatory flexibilities around reporting, licensure, and telehealth to the spring of 2021. This will give health care providers much-needed predictability because they will have these flexibilities regardless of whether the state of emergency is lifted. Go  here  for a list of extensions supported by VAHHS through the health care provider association coalition.
In the News
Vermont Hospital: Treatment For Substance Use Disorder is Safe During Pandemic

Vermont’s largest hospital says it’s treating more patients for drug overdoses but is seeing fewer people seeking help for their addiction through its innovative rapid-response care plan.

“Lately, we have had what seems to be, anecdotally, a spike in overdose cases,” observed Kyle DeWitt, a pharmacist in the emergency department at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

As NBC5 News reported last month, human services providers in the Burlington area have worried a combination of job losses and social isolation during the pandemic could increase the risk for relapses or overdoses, since in-person recovery support and overdose prevention efforts were put on pause during the stay-at-home order.

RRMC Health Talk: Why Hospital Visitor Management is so Important
Rutland Herald

As we “Restart Vermont,” I have heard many questions, concerns and frustrations regarding the ongoing visitation policy at Rutland Regional Medical Center, and I hope to better explain the science and the reasoning behind these restrictions.

When someone is exposed to any viral respiratory infection, including COVID-19, symptoms of the infection do not immediately arise. We call this time the “incubation period.” With the common cold and influenza, this lasts between 1-3 days after which people start feeling symptoms of virus such as sore throat, cough or fever. With COVID-19, the incubation period is much longer with an average time of 5 days and 14 days in some cases. During this incubation time, while people have no symptoms, they can still spread the virus. To confound the issue further, a large percentage of people who become infected with the virus never develop symptoms at all. All of this makes identifying people with the infection incredibly challenging and can lead to what we call asymptomatic spread.

CVMC Partners with Good Beginnings to Support Families with New Babies
Vermont Business Magazine

UVM Health Network - Central Vermont Medical Center is working with Good Beginnings of Central Vermont to ensure social distancing needed for safety does not exacerbate isolation commonly experienced by families with new babies.“Even in normal times, families with new babies can face isolation and its related health risks,” said Good Beginnings Executive Director Gretchen Elias. “With COVID-19, friends and neighbors are less likely to check in, and parents are less likely to visit. Creating spaces to build that empathy connection with others is more important now than ever.”

To meet the need safely during the pandemic, Elias and her team have worked with a number of local partners to ensure the continuation of perinatal support groups via online tools.

Retreat, State Offer Sustainability Plan
Brattleboro Reformer

The Brattleboro Retreat could be getting $10.2 million from the state in financial relief as it starts tackling items on a "sustainability plan" developed with the Vermont Agency of Human Services.

A proposal from the agency would provide the psychiatric and addictions hospital with weekly contributions of $600,000 for 17 weeks from federal funds aimed at helping states get through the coronavirus pandemic. Approval from the Vermont Legislature is needed.

The sustainability plan calls for restructuring the organization, reconfiguring space, expanding services including telehealth programming, exploring alternative payment models to provide more certainty around Medicaid budgeting from the state, renegotiating or putting an end to Medicaid payments from New Hampshire and Massachusetts, "rightsizing" inpatient social work and caseloads for psychiatrists, and forming a senior strategy team to improve and engage with the union.

UVM Survery: Vermonters Highly Support Social Distancing Measures.
Vermont Business Magazine

High percentages of Vermonters agree with the social distancing measures put in place by the state in response to the coronavirus pandemic and have complied with them, according to a new survey. But their attitudes and actions, while protecting their health, have come at a significant economic cost, especially for low income Vermonters, one of several ways in which poorer Vermonters have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Vermonters overwhelmingly supported the state’s social distancing guidelines, according to the survey, conducted by faculty in the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine between April 30 and May 13. Nearly 90% strongly agreed or agreed with the current approaches to social distancing, from closing schools (91%) to closing bars and restaurants (91%) to limiting mobility outside the home (93%) to forbidding mass gatherings (95.4%) to being required to wear a mask outside the home (85%).

While the positive attitudes translated to significantly fewer contacts overall, the survey showed, not all groups benefited equally.

Preventing Covid-Related Food Poisonings

In this 10-minute presentation, NNEPC educator Gayle Finkelstein discusses poisonings that have become more common during the pandemic and ways to prevent them.

People in the News