Message from the Executive Director: Planning During a Pandemic

Over the last several weeks it’s become clear we are entering a new phase of the COVID-19 emergency—a phase that will last for a year or more, probably until there is a vaccine. This phase will be less focused on preventing a surge of patients in hospitals (although we will remain vigilant) and more focused on preventing outbreaks and re-opening the health care system to address the needs of Vermonters that have been neglected in the immediate response to the crisis. Vermonters still have high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. They still need to have their teeth cleaned. Children need to be immunized against the diseases for which we already have vaccines. There is a lot of planning left to do.

As I see it, there are some critical tasks ahead:

  • Stabilize the financial health of the health care provider system. Every provider type has experienced a drop in volume and accompanying revenues.
  • Secure an ongoing supply of personal protective equipment (PPE). Health care providers will need PPE for routine health care visits unrelated to COVID-19 to prevent asymptomatic transmission—face shields and surgical masks are going to be the norm in home health and hospice for the foreseeable future. And of course, all providers will need additional PPE like gowns and coveralls and N95 masks to care for patients known to be positive.
  • Encourage Vermonters to seek care they need—it’s not safer to ignore heart attack and stroke symptoms for fear of going to a hospital.

Home health will continue to play an essential role in our ongoing COVID-19 response. Today, 40 COVID-positive patients are receiving in-person care (including breathing support) and remote monitoring of health indicators like blood oxygen saturation at home—more than three times as many individuals as are hospitalized with COVID-19 at this writing. Some COVID-19 positive home health patients were referred through hospital discharge, but many were directly referred by their physicians.

I’m deeply proud of the work of Vermont’s home health and hospice agencies in this crisis. Home health and hospice staff can be a little hard to spot since they spend the day in the car and in people’s homes. Thank you to community members who are finding some creative ways to say “thank you” to them—from weekly boxed lunches to “thank you” videos from Vermont Senators to homemade face coverings. Each day I spend a little time on the social media pages of members to re-energize me to do all I can to support their work.

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