Vermont officials bring in more resources for hospital wait times investigation

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WATERBURY, Vt. – Vermont officials are bringing more resources into the fold for a statewide investigation into lengthy wait times for medical appointments.

The Vermont Department of Financial Regulation and the Green Mountain Care board are now involved. The investigation was launched by the Department of Human Services following a Seven Days article that detailed four separate accounts of patients waiting weeks, even months, for urgent appointments.

“My goal, at least, is not to punish people, but find out what’s going on and fix it,” said Human Services Secretary Mike Smith. “The more partners we have in trying to figure out how to do this, the better it is.”

Secretary Smith said GMCB and the Department of Financial Regulation will help in getting a better grasp on the data and coming up with possible solutions.

Even though it’s still early on, GMCB Chair Kevin Mullin said skyrocketing wait times are an issue he’s been sounding the alarm on for years.

“I went in and testified to the Legislature a couple of years ago and called it a crisis,” Mullin said. “One of the observers in the room came over to me afterwards and asked if I was being a little melodramatic, and I said ‘I don’t believe so’. Knowing what I know today, I can now say it’s definitely a crisis.”

Mullin said it’s a problem faced by hospitals across the state, but he focused on UVM Medical Center in particular, suggesting a host of factors have played into their delays including its large number of patients and last year’s cyberattack. UVMMC President Dr. Stephen Leffler offered a few examples of the underlying issues at play.

“New equipment like a new MRI machine is one part of the problem,” Dr. Leffler said. “Making sure that we’re paying competitive wages, that we have retention strategies for our staff… We need a total of 10 new neurologists. We’ve been able to hire four, but we’re still six short.”

He described all of this and the COVID-19 pandemic as a perfect storm of events that’s made it difficult for people to get in.

“We’re very sorry about that, we know our responsibility is to provide good access to people and we’re working hard and looking forward to collaborating with the state and anyone who wants to help us to solve this problem,” Dr. Leffler said.

Ena Backus, the Director of Health Care Reform at the Agency of Human Services, will lead and coordinate the effort.

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