VDH Issues Further Guidance Regarding Re-Opening Health Care Services
The Vermont Department of Health on Friday issued guidance for Re-Opening Health Care Services as indicated in the May 4, 2020 Amendment to Addendum 3 to Executive Order 01-02. The guidance largely tracks the guidance already found in the Governor’s May 4th statement regarding reopening health care services with a few clarifying points. The May 15th Guidance states clearly that the requirements for reopening apply to all health care professionals licensed by Title 26, including physicians and physician assistants – but not dentists. It also clarifies that policies for testing asymptomatic staff do not need to be submitted to the state. (Hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers do need to submit plans). Instead practices must adopt a written a plan for the periodic PCR testing of health care providers and staff. The plan shall include:
- Who is to be tested;
- The laboratory to which specimens will be sent;
- Frequency; and
- Plan for return to work for those who test positive for COVID-19.
The state is not telling practices on what frequency or with what sample size testing should be performed. The Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems is advising hospitals perform “ongoing periodic monthly testing of all healthcare workers who encounter patients." Staff can be tested at state-operated pop-up sites with no clinician order and VDH is working with existing testing sites to determine if they can also be used for asymptomatic employee screening tests.
________________________________________________________________House Appropriations Seeks Funding for Primary Care Scholarship Bill
The Legislature has moved away from addressing only COVID-19 related legislation and is taking up bills that have been on pause since the legislature went remote in mid-March. The House Appropriations Committee heard testimony on H.607, a bill that creates a scholarship program for primary care physicians and nurses that commit to serve in rural, medically underserved areas of Vermont. VMS has been a central advocate for this proposal. If passed, the Vermont Department of Health would work with the UVM Office of Primary Care and Health Education Centers (AHEC) to establish the Rural Primary Care Physician Scholarship program, which would provide medical school tuition for up to five third-year and up to five fourth-year medical students annually who commit to practicing primary care in the state. The bill also creates a nursing education scholarship program aimed at reducing Vermont’s nursing shortage and the high cost Vermont facilities pay for traveling nurses. The bill would require a state investment of $1 million and the Committee expressed a willingness to seek funding for the proposal in August, when the legislature takes up the “big” FY2021 bill that will determine state spending for September 2020 through June 2021.
Physician Assistant Licensure Bill Taken Up by House Health Care CommitteeThe House Health Care Committee held a discussion session today regarding S. 128, the bill that revises physician assistant licensure. Several committee members raised questions about the impacts of changing “physician supervision” for PAs to “collaboration” and expressed some caution about making this change. PA Christine O’Neil stated that the changes in the bill largely reflect how the relationship between PAs and physicians already works in current practice, where PAs work with any number of physicians in their day-to-day practice rather than with one supervising physician. Committee members also raised questions regarding other provisions in the bill, including regarding liability changes and whether any other changes are needed to allow flexibility during public health emergencies. The Committee walked through several proposed technical amendments to the bill and will bring the bill to closure by early next week.
AMA Advocacy on HEROES Act and Other Federal Relief Actions
The American Medical Association (AMA) has been extremely engaged in advocating for national policies that will bring immediate relief to clinicians and help provide patient care during the public health emergency. Here is a quick summary of AMA's recent advocacy actions and federal information:
BCBSVT Extends Temporary/Emergency Coverage to December 31, 2020
Monday, May 18th, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont announced they are extending the termination date for all emergency coverage policies adopted during COVID-19 from May 31, 2020 to December 31, 2020. Policies that will now be effective until the end of the year include telephone only services and telephone triage calls. For all of the extended policies and BCBSVT news click here.
Recently Updated COVID-19 Helpful Links: