From the CEO
What a week. Vermont’s hospitals have just completed their fiscal 2022 budget hearings before the Green Mountain Care Board (GMCB). As I reflect on the hours of hearings—I observe every one of them—I am filled with both immense pride and continued concern for the well-being of our hospitals and the beleaguered Vermonters who keep them running 24/7/365.

I opened the budget hearings now two weeks ago by saying that hospitals are squeezed like never before. And the hospitals themselves told their version of this story over the course of the hearings. They have no extra people, no extra time and no extra space. They are treating more patients every day and filling their beds and their facilities—with people who delayed care during the pandemic, those seeking treatment for mental health, individuals waiting for long-term care placement and the recent uptick in COVID-19 patients. The patients are presenting sicker and with more challenging conditions that are creating an unprecedented demand for care.

Even with our best-in-the-nation COVID response, this pandemic has proved unrelenting and hospitals continue to bear the brunt of its force. With third doses and 60,000 vaccinations for children coming up, hospitals are once again vaccinating. And they are testing more Vermonters than in recent months on top of managing the logistics and issues associated with mandating vaccinations or weekly testing for their own staffs.

Given all of this, the GMCB graciously said it would entertain requests from hospitals that did not feel they had the bandwidth to participate in the hearings. I think it says a lot that despite being so busy and overwhelmed, hospitals showed up to make sure the GMCB and Vermonters in general know what they are doing to stay strong now and to plan for the future.

The budgets that have been submitted, reviewed and described in meticulous detail represent what is necessary to rebuild, recruit and reinvest in facilities. These are the budgets Vermont’s nonprofit hospitals need and deserve to serve their patients and communities. Unlike in most parts of the country, our hospitals do not answer to shareholders; they are accountable to the people and places they serve. And in that spirit, they build budgets that enable them to meet their mission and be leaders in public health during a still critical and uncertain time.

Meanwhile, hospitals continue working to transition to value-based care without the significant transformation funds that were promised as part of the All Payer Model. That also involves managing the administrative complexities of participating in our unique health reform program, which require a lot of staff time and focus.

With so much uncertainty and ongoing challenge, reducing or changing budgets would be incredibly harmful at a time when all of us need our health system to stay safe and manage the pandemic but also improve access and wait times and update facilities to meet patient demand and stay current on technology and equipment.

Over the past couple weeks, our hospitals highlight intractable challenges, including the workforce and mental health crises, lack of affordable housing and increased COVID response needs. As a regulatory body, the GMCB may wonder if these issues are out of their control or purview, but the first and most important step they can take to address these challenges is to approve hospital budgets that are crucial for the health and wellbeing of Vermont.

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In the News
Rising hospitalizations aren't only about COVID-19 cases
Roll Call

Hospitals across the country are reaching capacity, the result not only of increasing COVID-19 cases, but also side effects of the pandemic, from delayed surgeries that are now urgent to mental health problems among children. 
Exacerbating the problem, hospitals are facing new staffing challenges as doctors, nurses and other support staff buckle under the pressures. 
Hospital leaders are calling on the Biden administration to help by extending more financial aid, importing medical staff from abroad, and reducing regulatory hurdles to help move patients who aren’t critically ill out of much-needed beds. 

Many of the hospitals that are hardest hit right now are clustered in the southeastern part of the United States, which has lower vaccination rates than other parts of the country and has seen cases rise most rapidly this summer as the virus’s delta variant spreads. 

Amid staffing shortages, UVM Health Network helps patients get faster access to care
Local 22

As hospitals in the region grapple with staffing shortages, the University of Vermont Health Network (UVMHN) plans to expand its patient access center to ensure patients are seen in a timely manner.

The starts largest hospital, University of Vermont Medical Center, is facing a shortage of providers. Currently, they’re trying to recruit more than 90 doctors and competing with hospitals in the region to fill these spots.

Expanding the patient access center program would bridge the gap.

“The focus of the patient access and services center is to make things easy for their patients when they’re trying to schedule appointments. In fact, our purpose statement is to shrink the length of time that it takes for patients to secure their appointments or contact with a medical provider,” said Scott O’Neil, Vice President of Patient Access and Service.

Nurse Barron: A Refresher on the Pandemic
Bennington Banner

As the pandemic continues, changes to official recommendations keep coming. Every now and then, it is helpful to take a step back and get a full picture of everything we should be doing to keep ourselves, our loved ones and our communities safe. Here’s everything you need to know, all in one place.

No. 1: When it comes to COVID-19, Vermont is one of the most highly vaccinated areas in the world. That means we are in great shape, even in the face of the delta variant. At the same time, the virus is out there.

While vaccinated people are protected from most mild illness and highly protected from serious illness, hospitalizations and deaths, they can still catch and spread the virus.

COVID-19 booster shots now available for eligible Vermonters
Local 22

Nearly 40 new clinics are gearing up to administer a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine for eligible Vermonters.

The FDA recommends a third dose for Pfizer and Moderna vaccine recipients eight months after their second dose. Those with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine don’t need a third dose yet.

Vermont Human Services Secretary Mike Smith recommends consulting with your doctor before getting the additional dose. He said the roll-out of booster shots will work in two phases. The first, which went into effect August 18, includes those with weakened immune systems.
Health Department employees urge leaders to issue stronger Covid-19 guidance

A group of 91 rank-and-file Vermont Health Department employees have penned a letter to the department’s leaders, begging them to take a firmer stand as the state sees a surge of Covid-19 cases.

The letter delivered to Health Commissioner Mark Levine, State Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso and Deputy Commissioner Kelly Dougherty Thursday morning includes signatories from across the health department. They represent a broad range of people who have worked on the state’s pandemic response, including district office staff, epidemiologists, contact tracers and public health analysts.  

“We are writing to express our deep concern at what we believe to be a lack of adequate COVID-19 prevention guidance from our Health Department to Vermonters at this unique state of the pandemic,” the letter begins.
Medical community: Pregnant women should get vaccine
Rutland Herald

Women who are pregnant, trying to get pregnant or nursing but who haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19 should get the vaccine, according to Dr. Robin Leight, medical director of Rutland Women’s Healthcare at Rutland Regional Medical Center (RRMC).
Leight’s recommendation reflects a statement released Aug. 9 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and many other organizations including the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

“It’s not exactly new, but it’s hot off the press how strongly they feel and hope that us providers who belong to that organization (will) feel and support that all persons (12 and older) are eligible for the COVID vaccine,” she said.

Leight said the literature she had reviewed from ACOG and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found no connection between getting the vaccine and fertility.
28M SVMC emergency department project launched
Bennington Banner

A groundbreaking for a $28 million expansion of the emergency department at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center followed a ceremony Friday that drew more than 50 supporters, staff members, hospital, local and state officials and area residents.

Hospitals in the News
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