UVM Health Network provides update on workforce shortage plan

The UVM Health Network is seeing record patient volume as the omicron wave rages on, stressing an already overloaded workforce.
Published: Jan. 19, 2022 at 4:48 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 20, 2022 at 6:33 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The UVM Health Network is seeing record patient volume as the omicron wave rages on, stressing an already overloaded workforce. It comes as network officials on Wednesday provided an update on plans rolled out this fall to improve patient wait times for specialists.

Hospital officials say in-patient beds are totally full on a daily basis in the midst of a workforce shortage.

“These items that are technologically driven become even more important during a historic and national workforce shortage,” said Brad Kromf, UVM Health Network’s executive director.

Despite those challenges, he says the network continues to work on implementing its workforce plan. E-consults, which give patients consultation from specialty physicians through their primary care doctor, have been set up for some types of services and Kromf says more will be added in 2022.

They have also added centralized scheduling to help wait times. For example, someone can make an appointment for a urology examination and have the option to choose one of the three UVM facilities offering urology exams. “They would have to travel a little bit but have it several weeks before they could access that service,” said UVM Health Network president John Brumstead.

Network officials say elective surgeries are still generally backlogged as the hospital has had to shift focus to increasing capacity and critical care beds. “Where we can do elective surgeries where you don’t need an in-patient bed -- those are things we can prioritize. But it’s really a constant moving target depending on how many beds are available and the staffing situation,” Kromf said.

Since October, five ICU beds have been added to the surgery recovery room of at the UVM Medical Center. “That cuts into our ability to work down those backlogs,” Brumstead said.

Another major goal of the access plan is to increase staffing. Facilities across the network are set to negotiate wages with UVMMC this year. Brumstead says they’ve converted 10 traveling nurses to permanent staff and are working to get more but that they still face recruiting challenges. “We need to partner with folks on child care and access to good housing in all of our communities,” he said.

Other goals of the health network for 2022 include reopening the Fanny Allen outpatient surgery services, adding staff to the patient access and service center team, and explore remote-hybrid options for employees.

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