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Message from the CEO

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last wrote. With summer’s sunshine, travel and so many of us trying to enjoy whatever sense of normal we can find, it felt right to take a little break. This week, however, was a not-so-subtle reminder that despite our best-in-the nation vaccination efforts, COVID is not letting up. We are seeing a steady increase in cases, mostly the highly contagious Delta variant. So, here’s my pitch once again that we not let our guard down.

First, let’s acknowledge our incredible progress. To date, more than 84 percent of our states population is vaccinated. That’s astonishing. And, it’s the reason that even though there are more cases than in recent months, those cases are mostly mild and very few require hospitalization as a result. It’s also worth noting that our students will be back in school in-person full time this fall. That’s a relief for many parents as well as education and health care experts who know remote learning is far from ideal for our kids.

As we continue to make our way through this new and uncertain phase of the pandemic, we must keep doing what has worked so well in Vermont to this point: following the guidance of our public health experts to keep ourselves and each other safe and being patient and kind as we do so.

So, here are a few reminders to carry with you as we manage higher cases:

First, vaccinations are our best defense. Please get vaccinated if you have not already. If you have a loved one or friend who is not vaccinated and is able to be, engage in respectful, compassionate dialogue about what their barriers may be and urge them to do the right thing and get vaccinated as soon as possible.

You may consider masking in public places like retail stores. I have certainly noticed more people out and about masked than in previous months. While this is not mandated, the CDC has found that even vaccinated individuals who are infected with COVID can transmit the virus.

As always, wash hands frequently, use sanitizer and avoid places if you feel sick. Even if it’s not COVID, it’s good practice to stay home, avoid spreading virus and keep others healthy.

It has been a beautiful summer so far, and we have weeks more to go. If we keep up our
efforts, we’ll keep COVID at bay and continue to enjoy the things we love.
In the News
Gifford's Dr. Josh White addresses delta variant
Vermont Business Magazine

Vermonters should be cautious, but not worry about the more contagious Delta Variant. That’s the message from Gifford Health Care Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Josh White. Delta is causing a rise in cases throughout the world, but according to Dr. White, these COVID-19 variants were expected.

“Viruses mutate, so they can spread better,” Dr. White said. “Delta seems to reproduce much faster, which means when a person coughs or sneezes, there’s a lot more virus in it so it’s much easier to transmit.”
While the Vermont Department of Health is reporting a slight increase in new daily cases (1.8% positive 7-day average), the state’s high vaccination rate is keeping patients out of the hospital. 

“Vermont’s done a nice job,” Dr. White said. “The populous responded to the goal set by the state. We did well and we’re seeing that reflected in the low number of hospitalizations. The intent of vaccines is to prevent unnecessary hospitalization, sickness and death. Vaccines do that really well, which means Vermont’s target of 80 percent is a big deal. It provides us some measure of relative safety."
Vermont hospitals are requiring employees to get Covid-19 vaccine shots

At least five hospitals across the state are requiring some or all of their employees to be vaccinated, a VTDigger survey found.
The five are Brattleboro Memorial, White River Junction VA Medical Center, Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital, Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Southwestern Vermont Region, which offers care through Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington.

Others — including the University of Vermont Health Network, a system with more than 600 licensed beds in Burlington alone, and its affiliated Central Vermont Medical Center have not yet decided what policy, if any, to impose. Health network spokesperson Annie Mackin said earlier this week that she expects a decision in the coming days.

In a statement Tuesday, the network said it was “actively moving toward the goal of having our entire workforce of nearly 15,000 employees and physicians in Vermont and northern New York vaccinated against Covid-19.”
One size does not fit all: How to navigate the rising Delta variant

The rise of Delta, a highly contagious variant of coronavirus, has led to an explosion in new cases almost everywhere in the United States. 

Almost everywhere, that is, but Vermont and its neighbors. With an almost 84 percent vaccination rate among eligible residents, there’s no doubt the Green Mountain State’s collective immunity has kept a significant case surge at bay. The state’s modest rise in cases has also meant that large gatherings sans masks are still allowed, but elsewhere, even corporationscities and states are reimposing their own indoor mandates. 

Coupled with the CDC’s new guidelines for indoor masking and the revelation that Delta may be more contagious than previously thought, exactly how Vermonters should keep themselves safe isn’t as straightforward. VTDigger asked three infectious disease experts for guidance on this latest development in the pandemic. 
Vermont legal advocacy group seeks stories of medical-debt burden
The Valley News

The calls that come through Vermont Legal Aid’s Health Care Advocate HelpLine vary, but the ones that can be most heartbreaking are from people who need procedures or medications they’re not getting.

“The most difficult cases we get are the families who say, ‘We just can’t afford it,’ ” said Mike Fisher, chief health care advocate for Vermont Legal Aid, a nonprofit law firm.

In 2019, Vermont’s 14 hospitals reported $85 million of consumer bad debt to the Green Mountain Care Board, said Fisher, a former lawmaker from Addison County who chaired the House Health Care Committee. Debt is considered “bad” once bills get sent to collection agencies for payment.

“We hear a number like that $85 million, and what does that mean for on-the-ground Vermont families?” Fisher said. “That’s what motivated us to say we really need to advance Vermonters’ voices and make sure that, as we’re all focused on giving people the right care at the right time, we understand what the high costs of care does to people in a real way as they try to get care.”
UVM Health Network to mandate vaccines for its 15,000 employees
Seven Days

University of Vermont Health Network workers will need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing.

The requirement was announced Friday and goes into effect October 1. It applies to the nearly 15,000 employees across the hospital network's six hospitals, though employees will be able to request medical or religious exemptions. The move comes as the highly infectious Delta variant continues to surge across the United States.

"The recent rise of COVID-19 cases in our region and across the country due to the highly contagious delta variant has made one thing crystal clear: vaccination is how we control the spread and hopefully end this pandemic," UVM Health Network CEO and president John Brumstead said in a written statement announcing the requirement. "As a health care provider, our consistent message through the pandemic has been to get vaccinated to protect yourself and others, and it is imperative that we do the right thing to protect our patients, our communities and our employees."
Hospitals in the News
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