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UVM Health Network plan aims to address lengthy wait times, labor struggles

Published: Oct. 12, 2021 at 5:00 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The UVM Health Network Tuesday announced measures it is taking to address long wait times for appointments with specialists, a longstanding problem exacerbated by the pandemic. It comes a month-and-a-half after the state began investigating why wait times are so long for patients here.

“We’re not hiding behind the fact that we have access needs in virtually every clinic,” said Dr. John Brumsted, the health networks’ president and CEO. He says the network, which operates six hospitals in Vermont and New York, is under severe strain as the pandemic rages on.

Mary Broadworth, the network’s vice president of human resources, says the need to hire and retain staff is immense and that they have to fill some 800 positions, about 10% of their entire workforce. “We are hiring at a volume at which we cannot keep up. We are hiring hundreds of people a month and we still have openings, so the volume is extreme right now,” she said.

And how they’re delivering health care is changing too. Before the pandemic, officials say there were around 1,000 people using telehealth options. Now, there are around 22,000 patients opting for telehealth.

Officials say the new plan addresses three main areas of improvement:

1. Hire, and most importantly, retain staff

2. Reduce patient wait times for specialty care

3. Improve hospital in-patient and emergency capacity

Broadworth says in the next few months they’ll conduct a market analysis to ensure wages are competitive, add more health professionals and human resources staff, and target raises for specific positions. “We are doing shift bonuses, we are doing retention bonuses, and we are paying in those high-need areas because of the demand,” she said.

When it comes to reducing patient wait times, the network is using software to connect with patients in different parts of the state and patients will soon be scheduling their own appointments. Brumstead admits right now they are not meeting the industry standard of having 80% of new patients be seen in the first two weeks. To increase hospital inpatient and emergency capacity, he says they will continue to partner with other hospitals to add more beds and develop an observation unit. “So that folks who are in between needing an emergency room and a formal inpatient admission -- so that we can keep them in a space to bring the right resources and care to them,” he said.

UVM Health Network officials say the new plan is not a response to the state’s investigation into wait times. AHS Secretary Mike Smith on Tuesday said he has not yet seen the full plan and that the state wants to understand why retaining staff is so challenging for the network.

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