Vt., NH governors clear the way for more health care services

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) Gov. Phil Scott announced on Monday that outpatient surgeries can resume at health care facilities across Vermont. And New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu made a similar announcement.

It means more people will have more access to health care. It's also a sign the region is taking another step forward in the battle against the coronavirus.

It's another turn of the spigot-- more access to health care that used to be routine but was postponed because of the pandemic.

"My daughter could use an elective procedure but we are putting it off. Just for now until the time is right," said Theresa Cabel of White River Junction.

Under an order from the governor, Vermont hospitals can once again offer outpatient services like diagnostic imaging and outpatient surgeries.

"Just because of where we live and the number and how this is panning out, I think it is appropriate," Cabel said.

"Orthopedic cases that would fall in that category, cataract surgery, some ear nose and throat surgeries," said Dr. Stephen Leffler, the president and CEO of the UVM Medical Center.

Leffler says the facility will begin ramping up services next week, but in the short-term will likely be operating at 50% to 60% capacity at the very most.

Surgeries that require overnight stays are still on hold.

"We expect to have some COVID patients in the hospital regularly now and we are building a new future that would have that part of the new normal and still safely care for everybody else who needs us," Leffler said.

The Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, New Hampshire's largest health care provider, is also preparing to resume time-sensitive, urgent elective surgeries and procedures and ambulatory visits within the next 14 days.

"Haven't needed to go to a hospital and not planning on going to a hospital," said Peter Glover of Bridgewater.

And Glover says he a little apprehensive about seeking any care.

"I think I have a dermatology appointment in June but we will see how that goes," he said.

Peter Klor of Enfield, New Hampshire, needs a hernia surgery, which could possibly fall in the outpatient category.

"The last time that I talked to a doctor, I was going to do it. We were going to schedule in a few months and then along came the virus," Klor said.

Though he, too, says he will likely give it some time before he makes the appointment.

"I probably will still wait a while before I decide to do it," Klor said.

As we have reported, hospitals across the region face serious financial challenges because of the pandemic. UVM Medical Center officials say these steps to reopen will help make up for the UVM Health Network's $150 million in lost revenue. But they say first and foremost, the health of their patients is their number one priority.

Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine says there are some strict rules. Facilities must screen patients for COVID-19 before their procedures, staffers must be screened and must wear PPE, patients and visitors must wear cloth face coverings, and companions are only allowed if the patients need their help. Levine also announced a host of disinfecting measures facilities must take.

Click here for more details on what Gov. Scitt ordered on Monday.

Editor's note: Some of the video used in this story was shot before the pandemic began.