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Vermont rolls out plan to address strain on hospitals

Published: Oct. 21, 2021 at 5:32 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - As the delta surge drags on in Vermont, the state is opening more beds to alleviate pressure on hospitals that are running out of room.

COVID case counts at the UVM Medical Center have been growing over the past several weeks, but UVM and other hospitals say it’s not just delta that has them looking to move patients elsewhere.

Vermont’s coronavirus picture looks a lot different now than at this point last year. “There have been points where we thought we were rounding the corner or we thought we were in not such a tense situation and I think we’ve hit another false summit,” said Jeff Tieman with the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems.

Vaccines, the lifting of restrictions, and the delta variant created a whole new ball game. On October 20th of 2020 -- before vaccines and with gathering and travel restrictions in place -- the state recorded 11 weekly infections per 100,000 Vermonters. Flash forward a year and there are now 187 cases per 100,000 residents.

Vermont officials again this week said forecast models don’t agree on where the situation is heading. The state ranks second in the country when it comes to testing, so health officials say they are confident they have a good handle on how pervasive the virus is.

“In Vermont, we have a lot of people vaccinated but not a lot of people infected. Where in some other states, there were a lot of people infected but not a lot of people vaccinated,” said Dr. Tim Lahey, an infectious disease specialist with the UVM Medical Center.

Hospitalizations have remained steady in the 40s and 50s daily, but many health care facilities say they’re overwhelmed. “Across the board, our health care system is under stress,” said AHS Secretary Mike Smith.

But coronavirus patients are just one factor. Delayed care, people waiting for mental health treatment, and staffing shortages are all adding to the issue. Smith says they are looking to shift resources by moving non-COVID patients out of hospitals into 80 beds at long-term care facilities and rehab centers.

Burlington Health and Rehab, Rutland’s Mountain View Center, and St. Albans Healthcare and Rehab are the facilities taking on patients.

“When we have the system so full, any effort to unblock it and create beds that move people to the right place is enormously helpful,” Tiernan said.

The Brattleboro Retreat has 21 beds on standby but they sit empty because they can’t staff them. State leaders say COVID cases and resignations over vaccine requirements are keeping them closed.

As hospitals work on an action plan to deal with the strain, Dr. Lahey says getting over this wave and keeping our hospitalizations in check takes cooperation from everyone. “I am still proud of the fact that the death toll and the hospitalization rate are not as high as other places. And I do think that’s because Vermonters understand personal responsibility and vaccination,” he said.

Experts say a big part of the infection surge is driven by children too young to be vaccinated. That’s why they are eagerly awaiting the rollout of vaccinations for that age group in the coming weeks.

COVID HOSPITALIZATIONS SURGING IN NEW HAMPSHIRE

Hospitalizations in New Hampshire are up 33% in the last two weeks which, according to the New York Times, is the biggest 14-day increase of any state in the country.

Currently, there are just under 200 patients hospitalized with the virus in New Hampshire. Governor Chris Sununu, R-New Hampshire, says is he concerned about the uptick.

“I have always said we are going to have a very big fall and winter surge. We are just on the precipice of it right now. We are telling folks all the time, ‘You got to get vaccinated, you got to get your booster shots.’ Hospitalizations are rising, cases are rising. They are going to continue to rise all over New England. There is no doubt about that,” Sununu said.

There are currently 15 people hospitalized with the virus at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, which is actually down slightly from 19 in-patients earlier in the week. Hospital officials say the facility is not near capacity.

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