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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Gov. Scott Allows Some Elective Surgeries And Outpatient Care To Resume

Governor Phil Scott delivers his weekly coronavirus briefing.
Orca Media
At a thrice-weekly press briefing on Monday, Gov. Phil Scott announced that yet another sector of Vermont's economy will be allowed to slowly reopen.

Gov. Phil Scott announced Monday morning that some elective medical procedures will now be allowed to resume at Vermont hospitals.

Under the new guidance, health care providers can begin to offer non-essential diagnostic imaging, outpatient clinic visits and outpatient surgeries – provided  they can do so without dipping into the state’s reserve of personal protective equipment.

Such procedures had previously been put on hold, as Vermont’s health care system prepared for a possible surge in cases of COVID-19.

"While the initial restrictions were neccesary, we also know procedures put on hold are important to overall health," Scott said. 

More from VPR: Surgery Delayed? Hospitals Calculate Which Procedures To Reschedule

The governor’s decision was announced at his thrice-weekly press conference, and comes at a time when the state’s modeling indicates that the spread of COVID-19 has slowed substantially.

For now, clinics and  facilities will only be allowed to offer procedures that have a minimal impact on the health care system.

"Elective surgeries that require a hospital stay are not part of this phase," Scott said. "But if things continue to improve with respect to PPE inventory and if our positive trends continue then we’ll look to open up a bit further."

"Elective surgeries that require a hospital stay are not part of this phase." - Gov. Phil Scott

The state has also doubled down efforts to expand testing capacity, with a phased plan announced by Health Commissioner Mark Levine and State Epidemiologist Patsy Kelso on April 29 to conduct up to about 7,500 tests per week for the virus by the end of May. The move would more than triple the number of tests conducted in Vermont per week and prioritize testing for, among other groups, health care and home health workers.

More from VPR: Scott Reopens Manufacturing, Construction Industries After Dip In New COVID-19 Cases

Scott said that health care providers who resume outpatient clinic visits and diagnostic imaging must implement a host of measures to mitigate the spread of the new coronavirus. For example, all staff and patients will need to be screened for symptoms of COVID-19 before they enter a healthcare facility, and social distancing will continue wherever possible.

For procedures that require airway management, even asymptomatic patients will be tested for COVID-19 as close to their procedure date as possible, and be asked to quarantine after testing.

Healthcare workers – including lab technicians and administrators, regardless of whether they are symptomatic – in facilities offering outpatient surgeries and procedures will be required to undergo periodic testing for COVID-19, in coordination with the health department's Vermont Testing Task Force.

Have questions, comments or experiences you would like to share with VPR about the new coronavirus? Let us know

Individual hospitals and clinics will be responsible for ensuring their staff has adequate access to personal protective equipment. The governor’s directive clearly stated that providers will not be allowed to rely on state resources or the state’s supply chain for PPE to carry out elective medical procedures.

"These services may need to be suspended again in the future if the department of health determines that a COVID-19 outbreak has occurred and health care professionals can no longer safely care for Vermonters..." - Health Commissioner Mark Levine

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said that while the guidelines would allow procedures to resume, another outbreak of COVID-19 could cause the state to reverse course.

"These services may need to be suspended again in the future if the department of health determines that a COVID-19 outbreak has occurred and health care professionals can no longer safely care for Vermonters in a way that limits the exposure of patients and staff and that preserves PPE, ventilators and inpatient hospital capacity to meet the needs of an outbreak," Levine said.

But, Levine said if the spread of the coronavirus continues to slow, as it has been in recent weeks, the state will eventually reopen other parts of the healthcare system, like dentistry and eyecare.

The governor has slowly reopened other sectors of Vermont's economy, allowing small construction, landscaping and manufacturing crews to return to work — and on Monday, Scott indicated he'd also ease some restrctions this week to address the "social needs" of Vermonters.

For a timeline outlining Vermont’s response to COVID-19, head here

Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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