Today on the COVID-19 Front

Our friends and colleagues in New York City, New Orleans and other hot spots around the country are facing COVID-19 head on—very ill patients requiring intensive care, increasingly stressed facilities and equipment, shrinking supplies and, sadly, more deaths.

Here in Vermont, we too are experiencing growth in the virus, but doing all the right things to prepare our state and health system. First, we are working to prevent new infections and minimize the need for hospital beds by practicing social distancing, which is the single best strategy to keep the virus from spreading.

Our hospitals slowed or stopped elective procedures to preserve personal protective equipment and optimize space. New policies—like screening people who enter the hospital for a fever—have been adopted to keep our workforce and patients safe.

Clinicians and leaders from all sectors of government and health care are collaborating every day to prepare Vermont for the surge of patients COVID-19 could create if growing infections raise the need for hospitalizations.

Surge planning—which really means flexing the system to serve a much larger number of patients in a public health emergency—includes maximizing hospital capacity, partnering with community providers and creating new spaces to provide the right care to all patients as the pandemic unfolds. 

This statewide surge planning work changes as we learn more, and it will continue to evolve based on how COVID-19 plays out in each Vermont community. 

As this effort unfolds, we are witnessing how innovative our health care system can be. Providers are bringing care to patients through telemedicine—including mental health professionals who can help those facing difficult new circumstances. Meanwhile clinicians are finding new ways to connect patients with their remote families—sometimes creatively using their own personal devices.

During the pandemic, health care professionals also continue to care for accident victims, perform emergency surgery, deliver babies, treat cancer and assist those in recovery. Health care providers are in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, people’s homes and other settings throughout our state, often putting their own health at risk. Some are even choosing, for the sake of their patients and families, not to return home between shifts.

Our hospitals and health care providers have stepped up in Vermont, but so have the people who live here—from our neighbors who kindly leave six feet of distance while walking to the front-line doctors, nurses and public health leaders managing our collective response.

Governor Scott and the Vermont Agency of Human Services have made difficult, but wise decisions for public health and the future of Vermont.  And as a state, we've committed to social distancing, which is our best chance to keep people healthy and not overload our health care system.

There are no easy answers right now—not here or in New England, nor in another state or nation. But I believe that if any place has a real chance to get this right, and to keep moving forward together, it's Vermont. 

Jeff Tieman, VAHHS President and CEO