VAHHS CEO Jeff Tieman on COVID-19

Fewer than 10 days ago, COVID-19 wasn’t even a commonly known term, let alone one that dominated our media coverage and email inboxes.

Last week, we had our first patient in Vermont at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. Then we saw another at UVM Medical Center in Burlington. Meanwhile, the states around us saw their numbers rise. Within days, we were facing a massive public health challenge that affects everything—from our daily lives and activities to the capacity of our health care system.

Here in Vermont, I am proud of the way we have come together to make tough, but necessary decisions that help keep us all safe and healthy. It is essential to reduce all the risks we can. Exercising an abundance of caution is the best way to help slow the spread of COVID-19. It is important to “flatten the curve” of the epidemic—taking steps to prevent too many cases at one time, which can overwhelm hospitals and other health services.

We rely on our health care workforce every day to save lives and keep us healthy. Now we are seeing in a new way how swiftly and dramatically they can be called into action.  

While most of us hunker down and avoid mass outings and even small-group activities, health care workers go to work. And they work harder than ever—taking time-intensive, difficult measures to avoid spreading illness among patients, while still delivering the safe, high-quality care we expect from them.

It helps us a lot right now that Vermonters excel at working together. I am seeing that every day. Our hospitals are sharing ideas, resources and best practices—in real time. We are in constant touch with state partners and other industry sectors. The Vermont Healthcare Emergency Preparedness Coalition is coordinating the statewide response.

I also want to call out and thank my colleague and friend Cassie Sauer, who leads the Washington State Hospital Association. Cassie’s fast thinking and dedicated work over the past few weeks has saved lives in her state. She and her terrific team are leading the way as other states, including ours, manage growing numbers of infections and the effect of closures and stressed capacity.

Vermonters working together under difficult conditions is nothing new. In his declaration of emergency on Friday night, Governor Scott mentioned how effectively the state made its way through Tropical Storm Irene. A decade earlier, Vermonters rushed to the northwest to help neighbors after a major ice storm.

I am confident in Vermont’s hospital and health care leadership—in their skill, expertise, steady management and dedication to patients. Throughout our health care system, we have a lot of smart people working on this, and we will find our way through.

Still, some really hard days are ahead. Circumstances change by the minute. We will get through this by staying informed and together, using common sense and, as always, being courteous to each other. Stay safe out there, and wash your hands! 
 Jeff Tieman
VAHHS President and CEO