From the CEO
The Second Wave
by Jeff Tieman
VAHHS President and CEO

A “second wave” of COVID-19 has been a possibility for months but seemed a distant one, especially given Vermont’s best-in-the-nation response so far. Even as our infection numbers were small and stable, many people, including Department of Health Commissioner Mark Levine, said Vermont is not an island. Last week, that became all too evident.

Cases here in our state are rising exponentially. We must all act immediately to slow the spread and flatten the curve. What were once a handful of cases are now outbreaks that affect schools, businesses and, of course, hospitals. The first few new cases acted like sparks, and subsequent outbreaks became brush fires. Coupled with Halloween parties and other social gatherings over the past few weeks, we now have a COVID-19 forest fire in Vermont.

I know this is dramatic language, but the situation is serious and requires a dramatic response. The Governor and our state health leaders are carefully and thoughtfully restricting activities that have generated spikes. They are also rightly focused on striking a balance between needed safety measures and keeping our economy, schools and child care centers open.

Safety measures and mitigation steps like those Gov. Scott announced last week intend to prevent new infections and slow the overall spread so that our hospitals and health care system are not overwhelmed.

The next days and weeks are critical. With holidays approaching, safety during the pandemic means re-thinking traditions. Our hospitals are better prepared than earlier this year, but they still need our help. That means:

  • Connecting virtually instead of in person whenever possible 
  • Understanding and following the new restrictions, which can be found here
  • Replacing in-person holiday celebrations with virtual gatherings
  • Advising family and friends to heed the guidelines because none of us are “exceptions”

Hospitals too are taking difficult but important steps like limiting visitors to keep staff and patients safe.

On a personal note, I know this is hard. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and I would love to spend it with my Mom as usual. This year, that just is not possible, so we will share a meal on Zoom and not risk transmitting COVID. It will be different but also safer and kinder. Sharing love with our family members means protecting them from the virus.

Thank you for your sacrifice and support. By working together and prioritizing public health, we got through this onceand we will do so again.
Jeff Tieman
VAHHS President and CEO
In the News
Scott announces strict guidelines on bars and restaurants, social gatherings, sports leagues

With daily coronavirus case counts spiking the past three days, Vermont Governor Phil Scott Friday implemented strict new guidelines for social gatherings, bars and restaurants, and sports leagues.

“We are moving in the wrong direction,” Scott said. “This is about making sure we don’t overwhelm our hospitals--and save lives.”

Starting Friday, multi-household gatherings are prohibited--both inside and outside. All non-school sports leagues are on pause.

Effective Saturday, bars, breweries, and social clubs must close for in-person service. They can do take out or curbside service. Restaurants will have to close at 10 p.m. for in-person service.

Restaurants, museums, and gyms must keep a daily log of everyone who enters a facility. College students coming home from out of state need to quarantine. The governor recommended they get tested after seven days.

The governor says the state has $75 million to help these businesses but he says the state needs five to ten times more for the hospitality industry. He said the federal government must act on this.

Mandatory quarantine for cross-state travel
Vermont Business Magazine

As the number of counties eligible for quarantine-free travel has dropped to only two, the cross-state travel map is being temporarily suspended effective immediately. A 14-day quarantine – or 7 days followed by a negative COVID-19 test – is now required following any non-essential out-of-state travel by Vermonters and for all travelers entering Vermont from another state. Essential travel includes travel to attend PreK-12 school and college if commuting daily, or for work, personal safety, medical care, care of others, parental shared custody, or for food, beverage or medicine.

The regional map will continue to be maintained on the Agency of Commerce and Community Development and the Department of Financial Regulation websites for informational purposes only. The regional map will continue to be updated weekly on Tuesdays.

Of the approximate 3,100 counties in the US, only about 30 would meet the standard. In Vermont, only Rutland and Franklin counties are under the 400 per million guardrail. There are only two others in the entire Northeast, one in upstate New York and one in far northern Maine.

UVM to research COVID-19 with funding from American Lung Association
Vermont Business Magazine

While the world awaits a viable COVID-19 vaccine, the U.S. is seeing a significant increase in the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, which climbed up 40 percent in October. To accelerate the search for COVID-19 solutions, the American Lung Association recently announced a $25 million-dollar COVID-19 Action Initiative. As part of this effort, 12 researchers, including University of Vermont (UVM) Professor of Medicine Daniel Weiss, M.D., Ph.D., have been selected as recipients of the inaugural COVID-19 and Respiratory Virus Research Award.

A pulmonary and critical care specialist, Weiss joins 11 other award recipients working to end COVID-19 and defend against future respiratory virus pandemics. Each awardee is receiving funding of $100,000 per year for two years to support the exploration of important avenues to reduce the burden of this virus.
SVHC offers $3.2M for former SVC campus
Bennington Banner

Southwestern Vermont Health Care has submitted an offer to the bankruptcy trustee overseeing liquidation of assets of the former Southern Vermont College — a signed $3.2 million offer for the real estate and facilities of the main campus.

“The leadership of the health system, through the direction of its board of directors, is committed to developing a long-range plan to maximize the use of this valuable community asset, as well as how the property could enhance community and health-related services for the Southern Vermont region,” officials said in a media release.
UVM Medical Center will close Fanny Allen operating rooms after more staff illnesses

The Fanny Allen operating rooms will be closed because more nurses have reported feeling nauseated and dizzy.

Ten staff members at the Colchester facility said they felt sick in the last 10 days, less than two weeks after nurses on the two rehab floors reported similar symptoms.

After a year of repeated instances of staff members feeling sick, hospital officials promised Thursday that nurses won’t return to the rehab units or the operating rooms until investigators figure out what’s causing the issues.

“We feel like we've explored everything that we can check to make it as safe as possible — we've used multiple outside experts, and we continue to monitor the air quality and other issues,” said UVM Medical Center President Steve Leffler. “Unless we find something that we're certain is the cause, we won't go back.”

Vermonters volunteer for vaccine trial: Who's stepping up? An Abenaki chief and a grandma.
Burlington Free Press

Local residents have bravely volunteered to participate in COVID-19 vaccine trials with the hope of helping make things safer for their loved ones.

Chief Don Stevens of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk-Abenaki Nation was one of the first to volunteer and said it was important to him to protect Native people who are at increased risk because of the high prevalence of underlying health conditions.

"It is vital that we protect our elders and most vulnerable from this pandemic. They hold our history and cultural knowledge,” Chief Stevens said. “As a leader, I would not ask our citizens to do anything I would not do myself. It’s that important for us to participate in helping advance progress toward vaccines for the people.”
Some Patients See Delays As UVM Medical Center Works To Recover From Cyberattack

Two weeks ago a cyberattack hit Vermont’s largest hospital, taking down many systems and radiating outward to impact several affiliated health care facilities.

The hack left the University of Vermont Medical Center without access to patients' electronic medical records, its scheduling system and even knocked out phone and email programs. The hospital is still working to get everything back online.

The disruptions caused by the cyberattack have also resulted in delays in care for some seriously ill patients.

Andy, a 48-year-old Burlington resident, is used to going to the hospital. Two years ago he was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. The disease has spread throughout his body, and chemotherapy is the only thing keeping the cancer at bay.

“I’m a so-called ‘chemo-for-life patient,’” Andy said. “I have an un-receptable organs from metastasis. So every two weeks I go in and get chemo, and things have been pretty stable for a while.”

UVM Medical Center gets access to some medical records after cyberattack

The University of Vermont Medical Center has regained access to some medical records, a major step in restoring capacity after the Oct. 28 cyberattack.

Around noon on Thursday, IT staff restored access to the “read only” medical records, meaning that nurses and doctors can view patients’ medical histories, prescriptions and past appointments through Oct. 28.

UVM Medical Center President Steve Leffler called it an “unbelievably huge first step” in returning to normal.

“It shows that the system is stable for physicians and staff,” he said. Doctors can see the records, but cannot enter new information into the system. They continue to document their appointments on paper.

“There is still significant work to get into where we can actually enter orders and enter treatment plans and things like that,” Leffler said.

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