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Nov

30

UVM Health Network Stands Up Additional ICU, COVID-19 Capacity

Vermont and Northern New York Facilities Adapt to Ensure Access to Emergency, Acute Care in the Face of Unprecedented Demand for Hospital Care

BURLINGTON – The University of Vermont Health Network announced today that in order to care for an increased number of patients in need of acute inpatient care, as well as a growing number of COVID-19 patients in Vermont’s hospitals, the University of Vermont Medical Center and Central Vermont Medical Center are standing up additional Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and COVID-19 bed capacity, in accordance with calls from the state for more ICU beds. This means that more physical space and staff within the hospitals will be devoted to patients in need of intensive care. Currently, five ICU beds are being added at UVM Medical Center and capacity equal to three beds at CVMC; 10 COVID-19 beds are being added at UVM Medical Center. 

In New York State, Governor Kathy Hochul last week issued an executive order allowing the Department of Health to limit non-essential/elective surgeries at facilities whose staffed bed capacity is below 10%. The executive order takes effect Friday, December 3. UVM Health Network affiliates in Elizabethtown, Malone and Plattsburgh are awaiting further guidance from the state and will be announcing the potential impact to services at that time.

To ensure the physical space and staff capacity to safely care for patients in ICU beds, the number of surgical procedures will be reduced through the end of 2021 at UVM Medical Center, prioritizing patients with the most urgent clinical needs. Priority will be given to patients requiring surgery for cancer, trauma, and other time-sensitive conditions that threaten life or limb. As assessment of capacity continues, there may remain some, but reduced, capacity to care for those planning less time-sensitive surgeries. Some patients already scheduled for this time period may need to have their procedures postponed to a later date. Due to the outpatient nature of most surgeries at CVMC, the Berlin-based hospital will not scale back surgeries, but will continue to evaluate inpatient surgeries on an ongoing basis.

Network clinical leaders said that while the decision is frustrating, it is necessary during this time to maintain access to emergency and acute care for the residents of Vermont and Northern New York, as hospitals throughout the entire region are at capacity and are facing an unprecedented demand for hospital services.

“We are committed to providing the emergency and acute care that our communities need, even when that requires difficult decisions,” said John R. Brumsted, MD, President and CEO of The UVM Health Network. “Working together with the State of Vermont, State of New York, and our other hospital partners and colleagues, we will get through this challenging time.”

For months, health care systems nationwide – including the UVM Health Network – have been under severe strain due to a rapid and sustained increase in demand after patients delayed routine and urgent care in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Patients continue to be sicker when they arrive, requiring more acute care and regularly pushing the limits of ICU capacity. Hospitals throughout the region are experiencing the same challenges. Many hospitals around the country have closed beds. The UVM Health Network has worked hard to do the opposite, adding beds in innovative ways and working with community partners and the state to help discharge patients who no longer require hospitalization. Even with this unprecedented level of collaboration and creativity, the realities of limited physical space, staff, including physicians, higher acuity patients and the coming expected increase in COVID-19 cases requires tough decisions and repurposing of space and staff.  

Access Action Plan Impact

In early October, the UVM Health Network announced measures to reduce delays in patient access to outpatient and inpatient care, and help ensure access to emergency care in the face of record patient volumes and other challenges. The Network’s Access Action Plan addresses three main goals: hire successfully amid national staffing shortages, reduce wait times for specialty care, and improve hospital inpatient and emergency capacity.

Today’s announcement, which comes after a request from the State of Vermont for hospitals to add ICU capacity and the State of New York’s recent Executive Order, highlights the complex and interconnected nature of these goals, as well as how they cannot be separated from what is going on at a state and national level – with COVID-19, staffing shortages, and a growing and aging population.

“First and foremost, we have to maintain access to emergency and acute care for our region,” said Stephen Leffler, MD, President and Chief Operating Officer of UVM Medical Center. “But we also know that even if your procedure is considered ‘elective,’ it can have an impact on your quality of life while you wait. I apologize to any patients who may be inconvenienced or even angered by our need to limit surgical procedures in the coming weeks, but we are doing this to save lives.”

Leffler also acknowledged that, in the short term, the effort to guarantee acute inpatient care might actually increase wait times for specialty care. “We have been working hard to reduce wait times for doctor visits,” he said. “Unfortunately, for the time being, we have to set that goal aside and divert resources to those who are in the most urgent need.”

“The pandemic has continued to stress health care systems around the country, and CVMC is no different,” said CVMC President and COO Anna Tempesta Noonan, RN. “I want to acknowledge our incredible team for their efforts to deliver high quality care to patients throughout our community. Recruitment efforts are currently underway to increase our ICU capacity to address the high census and high acuity issues that CVMC and other hospitals are seeing throughout the state. We are encouraging patients not to delay essential care, and I’d like to thank our community for their patience and support as we continue working to meet the health care needs of Central Vermonters.”

UVM Health Network leaders recognize that some patients may have planned to have elective surgery before the end of the calendar year to take advantage of having already met their insurance plan’s deductible. We understand that limiting surgical procedures may make this difficult for some patients, and have asked the insurance companies who cover our patients to work with us on this and to hold patients who have had their care delayed for reasons outside of their control harmless. We have raised this issue with the State of Vermont and State of New York, and are ready to partner with our payers and regulators to make this work for our patients.

Any patient who is having trouble accessing care in a timely manner should first call their doctor’s office. If additional help is needed, our Patient and Family Advocates are ready to assist.

Vermont

Central Vermont Medical Center: (802) 371-4350

Porter Medical Center: (802) 388-4701

UVM Medical Center: (802) 847-3500

New York

Alice Hyde Medical Center: (518) 481-2258

Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital: (518) 314-3054

Elizabethtown Community Hospital: (518) 873-6377

About The University of Vermont Health Network

The University of Vermont Health Network is an integrated system serving the residents of Vermont and northern New York with a shared mission: working together, we improve people’s lives. The partners are:

Our 4,000 health care professionals are driven to provide high-quality, cost-efficient care as close to home as possible. Strengthened by our academic connection to the University of Vermont, each of our affiliates remains committed to its local community by providing compassionate, personal care shaped by the latest medical advances and delivered by highly skilled experts.

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