UVM Medical Center enacts emergency staffing plan

Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 6:52 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The UVM Medical Center, Vermont’s largest hospital, is down more than 400 staff connected to COVID or related precautions. An emergency staffing plan put in place Thursday is designed to focus staff on priority areas but will likely put even more pressure on the system.

“It’s hard going to work every single day not knowing what kind of disaster you’re going to be walking into,” said Deb Snell, president of Vermont Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals. Her job is to protect colleagues from total burnout. As an ICU nurse, she feels the exhaustion first-hand. “They’re expected to come to work every day and not only do their best, but now we’re asking them to even escalate and go way above and beyond what they normally have to do -- which is already very taxing.”

“People are tired, people are stressed,” said Peg Gagne, UVMMC’s chief nursing officer. She recognizes staff are stretched extremely thin but says this is an all-hands-on-deck situation.

As part of the plan, the hospital has canceled all meetings and trainings impacting managers and frontline staff so that those in administrative roles can get back to the bedsides. Some staff may also get moved to different units. Gagne says where they go and what job they do is based on their skill and ability. “We’re not going to take someone who is used to working with moms and babies and put them on a unit where they would be working with surgical patient population,” she said.

But staff may also have a heavier caseload. For instance, a nurse who typically cares for three to four patients, might take on more. Gagne says patients can also expect to see fluctuating emergency department wait times, personnel floating to floors on which they aren’t usually assigned, and non-clinical staff supporting in-patient units. It could also take longer to get discharged and out the door. “Our goal is that patient experience is the same,” Gagne said.

She says the hospital has only needed to make minimal adjustments so far, but the emergency staffing plan provides the flexibility to pivot quickly, efficiently, and safely if necessary.

As of Thursday, Vermont health officials reported 1,963 new coronavirus cases for a total of 83,994. There have been a total of 490 deaths. The state’s percent positive seven-day average is 13%. There are 91 hospitalized with 28 in the ICU.

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