With hundreds of employees missing work for COVID-related reasons — and more expected to be sidelined in the coming days — the University of Vermont Medical Center says it is enacting an emergency staffing plan that may eventually require it to limit services at some of its outpatient clinics.
The announcement comes as 422 — or about 5 percent — of the Burlington hospital's 8,500 employees are currently restricted from work because they had COVID-19, experienced symptoms or were exposed to the virus, according to a press release. Other employees need to stay home to care for children or loved ones.
Meanwhile, the number of patients seeking care remains sky-high. The hospital was treating 420 people on Wednesday, which accounts for 83 percent of its overall capacity. Thirty-one of those patients had COVID-19, including seven in the intensive care unit. Another 17 patients — 10 adults and seven children — were boarding in the emergency department for lack of an available inpatient psychiatric bed.
Under the emergency plan, which goes into effect Thursday and will likely last at least a few weeks, staff may be asked to fill in on units they don't typically work on, while nursing leaders may be deployed to serve in clinical or support roles. The goal will be to preserve the hospital's ability to provide acute and emergency care, the press release said.
“Our staff have been extremely dedicated throughout the entire COVID-19 pandemic, and we know they will continue to work together to provide needed care for our community in the face of yet another challenge,” said Peg Gagne, the UVM Medical Center's chief nursing officer. “That said, it has been a long haul, and we have asked a lot from each of them — they are tired, and like all of us, want this to be over.”
The press release added that the five others hospitals in the UVM Health Network were all facing similar challenges and will be "making their own staffing decisions as needed."