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UVM Health Network releases plan to address wait times and staff shortages

UVM Medical Center main entrance
Pat Bradley/WAMC
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The UVM Medical Center is the largest hospital in the UVM Health Network

The University of Vermont Health Network has released a plan aimed at improving patient access to care and addressing staff shortages. The plan was released just days after the union representing nurses and technicians held a roundtable to discuss short staffing and wage issues.

The University of Vermont Health Network released an Access Action Plan on Tuesday. Network CEO Dr. John Brumsted says it addresses three issues facing the hospitals in the network: staffing shortages, wait times and inpatient and emergency capacity.

“The recent rapid increase in demand that we’ve seen combined with unbelievable workforce shortages and some of our local challenges have dramatically increased the urgency to focus on access so that we can get people the care that they need.”

On Sunday the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals held a virtual roundtable to discuss short staffing, wages and management. One of the key points was the difference in pay between long-term employees and so-called travelers. Resource Department Nurse Tracey DeMean floats between 10 units. She knows 30 nurses who have left in the past year to travel from hospital to hospital.

“When they’re working with travel nurses that are making three times, literally three times as much money as they are why wouldn’t they travel? Because it doesn’t make sense for them to stay here and make such a little amount of money for the same skill set. Especially with the housing prices. I mean it feels like this is never going to be fixed. We have two hundred plus open nursing positions and I don’t know people who will come and stay and work here.”

The Health Network’s Action Plan includes efforts to recruit and retain staff by increasing pay in some high-needs areas, bringing in more recruiters to hire physicians and nurses; analyzing compensation to assure competitive rates and partnering with developers to create affordable housing options for employees.

UVM Medical Center Vice President for Human Resources Mary Broadworth says they are working with the union on stipends and shift bonuses.

“We need to maintain our current team and supplement with travelers. And given the demand for health care workers across the United States you know COVID’s delta surge for example in some regions of the country made traveling nurses wages skyrocket and so we are paying a premium," explains Broadworth. "So we will continue to look at both, both the levels of travelers we’re using as well as the compensation of our current team.”

The UVM Health Network is being investigated by the state regarding excessive patient wait times at its hospitals. Dr. Brumsted says the plan is not a direct response to that probe.

“It’s a response to the environment that we’re in right now nationally and locally. And the urgency comes from the fact that there’s an escalation in need and a constraint on our capacity to meet that need.”

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