Vermont Gov. Phil Scott announced Monday that health care providers can begin seeing some patients and perform elective outpatient procedures that were suspended in March.
Under Scott’s latest directive, clinic visits and diagnostic imaging can begin immediately, along with elective surgeries and procedures that do not require hospitalization. Providers must follow social distancing and federal guidelines to prevent and control infection.
Hospitals, clinics and diagnostic labs must screen patients for symptoms of the virus when they show up for their appointment, and staff and visitors must be screen before entering the building. The new guidelines require that staff and patients wear protective equipment as necessary, such as surgical, N95 or KN95 masks and eye-protection goggles.
The decision is the latest in what Scott has called a “phased” approach to reopening the state after directives that shut down most businesses, closed preK-12 schools and imposed a stay-at-home order for residents. Scott’s State of Emergency remains in effect until May 15, although he has allowed more people to return to work as the state’s modeling continues to show the spread of COVID-19 has slowed.
Secretary of the Agency for Human Services Mike Smith said outpatient clinics must confirm they must maintain a sufficient supply of personal protection equipment.
“They will not be able to access the state supply of PPE nor will they be able to use other state facilities for PPE,” Smith said. “So they are going to have to self-regulate their own PPE.”
Surgeries and procedures that require airway management require the patient be tested for COVID-19 no more than ninety-six hours before the procedure.
“After you got the test, you would self-quarantine from then until your procedure. So you would stay out of the public eye,” said President of UVM Medical Center, Steve Leffler.
Steve Leffler said UVM will start seeing patients at their outpatient facility, at the Fanny Allen campus, May 13. Leffler says he has heard from patients excited to get the care they have been waiting for and have been asking questions about safety.
“Our number one goal is to provide this selective outpatient care and keep our patients safe and our staff safe,” he said. “We are going to do it with a very low number of cases, to begin with, only about a third of normal time operations, normal capacity. And then very carefully ramp that up.”
Leffler said, since Scott suspended elective procedures and most non-emergent care, the UVM Health Network will lose an estimated $152 million.
“Resuming elective surgery, the best reason to do that is because our patients need it and that is what we are here for,” he said. “But it will help to start to make a difference in the money that we are losing.”
Three Vermonters died from COVID-19 over the weekend, bringing the total number of deaths in the state caused by the virus to 52. Health officials also reported at least 18 new cases of the novel coronavirus. As of Sunday, 897 people in Vermont have tested positive.
Scott said the downward trend in cases means “we can begin lifting some restrictions.
“While postponing these procedures was necessary to help protect our healthcare system, workers and patients during this pandemic, we know these procedures are important to Vermonters’ overall health,” he said.