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Vermont hospital administrators respond to state report on lengthy wait times

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

Officials from hospitals across Vermont are responding to a state report assessing wait times for care.

The Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems brought together hospital officials virtually Wednesday to discuss the report. The analysis began last fall after the online weekly Seven Days chronicled patients’ frustrations seeking appointments. Among the recommendations in the state report is that wait time data be regularly collected and made public.

Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems President and CEO Jeff Tieman acknowledged that hospitals need to do better. But he says the state report presents only part of the story behind long waits for appointments.

“Together we also need to look at workforce and our regulatory structure that has focused a lot on the cost component which has limited hospitals’ ability to make the right set of investments that are needed to improve access to care," said Tieman. "We also need to look more carefully at the data. The data does have some challenges including what it may leave out like our workforce shortage. And we have concerns about the Secret Shopper exercise.”

Health administrators question that methodology. State employees made over 1,000 calls to try to make appointments in 21 different specialties. Brattleboro Memorial Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kat McGraw says any comparative data would be skewed due to the timeframe in which the “Secret Shopper” data was collected.

“The time period of these Secret Shopper calls was at the same time that we were dealing with the Omicron variant and our staffs were very stretched. We had redeployed staff in various areas of the hospital to cover other areas so that we could be sure that our patients would receive their medications and their treatments and their nutrition in a timely manner. And that redeployment has an impact on our facilities broadly. So without accounting for that we really are looking at apples and oranges.”

The UVM Health Network created its own access report focused on three areas that affect wait times. CEO Dr. John Brumsted noted that the state wait times report does not appear to recognize the complex interaction between health care delivery and state regulations.

“One example that highlights the complexities of addressing access issues: facilities. The Certificate of Need process. If we were in New York or New Hampshire or Maine we’d go find the money and build that facility. In Vermont you have to add in months and in some occasions a year or two years into the process to get your regulatory approval." Brumsted continued, "I would ask that as part of the access report that’s come out that we not just look to the delivery system for all the solutions but that we look directly at the regulatory processes in the state of Vermont and make sure that those are not impeding our ability to address the access issues.”