State launches investigation into long wait times for medical treatment


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  • File: Courtesy photo
  • University of Vermont Medical Center

The Vermont Agency of Human Services said on Wednesday it was launching an investigation into the problem of long wait times for medical appointments across the state. The news came a few hours later Seven days published a story detailing how Vermonters wait months for specialist care at the state’s largest hospital, the University of Vermont Medical Center at Burlington.

Social Services Secretary Mike Smith said Seven days Wednesday that his agency had heard disturbing reports of medical appointment delays “for some time” now.

“I thought it was time we needed to look at this issue – and we need to look at it very thoroughly,” he said.

The Seven days History has documented the long-standing problem of wait times at UVM Medical Center, which has reached a new crisis point. More than two dozen people told the newspaper that they have struggled to get appointments on time in recent years despite painful and debilitating illnesses, such as kidney stones and chronic migraines.

One patient went more than two months without getting an appointment for what turned out to be metastatic pancreatic cancer. Several staff, meanwhile, said they wear themselves out under immense workloads and the weight of not being able to provide the highest level of care.

The state’s investigation – which will be led by Ena Backus, director of healthcare reform for Vermont – will not focus on any particular hospital, and will not be limited to specialist care, Smith said.

“Obviously, UVM being the largest network in the state, it will get a lot of attention,” he said. “But I don’t want to confine it to one institution. I want to look around.”

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Smith said there are many reasons the state is improving wait times. On the one hand, Medicaid makes it one of the biggest health insurance providers. The public program, which largely targets low-income people, provides health insurance to about one in five Vermonters, according to a 2018 report from the state Department of Health.

“One of Medicaid’s criteria is to ensure that the network [of providers] works up to par, ”Smith said,“ and that everyone involved in the program has the same access to care as everyone else. ”

But while the state could Seeking to withhold Medicaid payments to hospitals that do not provide “the care expected of them,” the purpose of the investigation is not to punish anyone, Smith said. “I’m looking for how we can find out what’s wrong and how can we fix it.” He said he hoped the investigation would be concluded as soon as possible. “It’s on the fast lane for us.”

UVM Health Network executives admit the medical center has a significant access problem, but say it was driven largely by external factors. They highlight national labor shortages that have worsened during the pandemic and note that patients who have canceled appointments in the past 18 months are now presenting themselves sicker, requiring more complex care.

In a press release issued shortly before the Seven days’ The story went live on Wednesday morning, Health Network CEO John Brumsted said the hospital was doing everything in its power to deal with the crisis, from intensifying recruitment efforts to the proposal for new facilities.

“I hope this reflects the urgency we feel,” he wrote. “But we also need to set realistic expectations. Many of these interventions will take time to work, and many require approval from state regulators before they can proceed.”

In a separate statement provided after the state’s announcement on Wednesday afternoon, Brumsted called the medical center’s wait times “unacceptable.”

“We have had many conversations with heads of state on these issues and we are very grateful for their partnership and all the help they can provide to remove obstacles to progress,” he said. “We will keep the public informed as our work progresses.”


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