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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

UVM Medical Center Nurses Vote in Favor of Strike

Posted By on Wed, Jun 13, 2018 at 12:17 PM

Union leaders, including Julie MacMillan, center, cross the street to make their announcement. - SARA TABIN
  • Sara Tabin
  • Union leaders, including Julie MacMillan, center, cross the street to make their announcement.
Updated at 6 p.m.

An overwhelming majority of the University of Vermont Medical Center’s nurses voted to authorize their union's bargaining committee to call for a two-day strike if its demands are not met when the nurses' contract runs out July 9.

Dozens of nurses gathered outside the hospital at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday for the vote result announcement. They cheered and clapped as union leaders came out of the hospital’s McClure Entrance and crossed the street to a picnic area in front of the building. Julie MacMillan, the union’s lead negotiator, announced the vote tally: 1,311 of the 1,800 union members voted, and 1,227 — 94 percent — said yes to a strike.

As the end of the nurses’ three-year contract comes comes ever closer, union negotiators have been playing hardball at the bargaining table. They have refused to meet with a national negotiator and have held press conferences and public demonstrations about what they say are public safety issues stemming from understaffing at the hospital.

The nurses claim low pay and high costs of living are preventing the hospital from retaining the number of nurses it needs to adequately care for patients. Eileen Whalen, hospital president and chief operating officer, estimated that the nurses’ average pay is $64,000 — less than the national average of $73,550 in 2017, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics.

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Thursday, June 7, 2018

UVM Medical Center Nurses to Hold Official Strike Vote

Posted By on Thu, Jun 7, 2018 at 3:58 PM

Julie MacMillan at a press conference held by the nurses last week - SARA TABIN
  • Sara Tabin
  • Julie MacMillan at a press conference held by the nurses last week
University of Vermont Medical Center nurses moved a step closer toward a possible work stoppage when 500 union members voted almost unanimously Wednesday night in favor of holding a formal strike vote, according to Julie MacMillan, a registered nurse and the union's lead negotiator.

Nurses will vote on June 10, 11 and 12 about whether to initiate a two-day strike once the current three-year union contract ends on July 9. If a majority of members want to walk out, the union would serve the hospital a 10-day strike notice on June 29.

MacMillan said the 1,800-member union is working to nail down more bargaining dates with the hospital in the hopes of reaching a resolution before a strike. Wednesday's vote gives the bargaining committee further proof its membership is serious about its demands, she said.

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Friday, June 1, 2018

Nurses, UVM Medical Center Remain at Odds Over Contract

Posted By on Fri, Jun 1, 2018 at 6:38 PM

Nurses clapping at Friday's press conference - SARA TABIN
  • Sara Tabin
  • Nurses clapping at Friday's press conference
Amidst a tense contract bargaining negotiation, nurses at the University of Vermont Medical Center announced at a press conference Friday morning that they had filed a complaint against the hospital with the National Labor Relations Board. The nurses allege twenty labor violations, including unlawful unilateral changes to staffing grids and unlawful ordering of employees to remove union buttons.

Friday was meant to be the final day of negotiations, but six hours after the morning event, union leaders told hundreds of nurses and community members packed inside the Davis Auditorium that no deal had been made. The current contract is scheduled to expire on July 9.

Leaders called for members of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, which represents about 1,800 nurses at UVM Medical Center, to attend an all-member meeting on June 6 to voice their opinions on the union's bottom line and the methods they should use to obtain their goals.

Earlier in the day, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, rallied with the nurses outside of the hospital. The national labor leader called for the hospital to care for its community and spend money on nurses rather than on administrative salaries.

“You're acting like the Trump administration, not like a Vermont administration,” Weingarten said.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Vermont House GOP Mobilizes Behind Scott to Defeat Toxics Bill

Posted By on Wed, Apr 25, 2018 at 5:50 PM

Reps. David Ainsworth (left) and Patrick Brennan - TAYLOR DOBBS
  • Taylor Dobbs
  • Reps. David Ainsworth (left) and Patrick Brennan
Vermont House Republicans on Wednesday mustered the votes to sustain Gov. Phil Scott's veto of a bill that would have expanded state regulation of toxic chemicals in consumer products.

The bill would have expanded the power of the commissioner of the Department of Health to regulate products that pose a risk of exposing children to toxic chemicals. The commissioner, who is appointed by the governor, would have been able to require health labeling on products or even ban their sale.

The House's vote to override the veto failed to get approval from two thirds of the representatives present, as required by the state's constitution. Ninety-four representatives voted in favor of the bill and 53 voted against it.

One of those standing with the Republican governor was Rep. David Ainsworth (R-South Royalton), who had been out sick. He returned to the chamber to help the GOP's cause, casting his first votes of the session.

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Health Department Program Gives Fentanyl Testing Kits to Heroin Users

Posted By on Wed, Apr 25, 2018 at 5:01 PM

  • Courtesy of the Vermont Department of Health
  • A testing kit
The Vermont Department of Health has quietly distributed fentanyl testing kits to heroin users during the past 15 months as part of a pilot program officials hope to expand statewide.

The kits, which allow users to determine if heroin is laced with the potent, often undetectable opiate, have been handed out to 130 people across the state, Health Department officials told Seven Days.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine said that the project has been a success: 90 percent of users said in follow-up interviews that they changed their behavior — by discarding the batch of heroin, using less, making sure they had an overdose-reversing drug on hand, or using in the presence of someone else — if the kit detected fentanyl.

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Monday, April 23, 2018

Under Financial Pressure, Brattleboro Retreat Seeks State Funding Increase

Posted By on Mon, Apr 23, 2018 at 4:19 PM

  • File
After experiencing back-to-back deficits, the Brattleboro Retreat — Vermont’s largest provider of mental health care — is telling state lawmakers it needs a Medicaid rate increase.

“It has to happen,” Human Services Secretary Al Gobeille told members of the House Health Care Committee last Tuesday. “If we did nothing with rates and nothing to improve their business position, Brattleboro Retreat would go bankrupt.”

Retreat CEO Louis Josephson moderated Gobeille's prognosis during an April 20 interview but acknowledged that without a rate increase, the facility would likely have to “shrink dramatically” to stay in business.

That could have a catastrophic impact on what's already considered a mental health crisis in Vermont.

The 119-bed Retreat, which operates on a budget of approximately $70 million, serves both children and adults. Since Tropical Storm Irene destroyed the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury in 2011, Vermont has contracted with the private psychiatric hospital to reserve 14 beds for patients who are in state custody and tend to be severely ill.

According to Josephson, half of the Retreat’s revenue comes from patients on Medicaid, the health insurance program funded by the state and federal governments. The rates set by the state to pay for those patients have remained essentially flat for eight years. Expenses, meanwhile, have steadily risen.

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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Fatal Opiate Overdoses in Vermont Reach New High in 2017

Posted By on Thu, Mar 22, 2018 at 2:42 PM

  • Metrue/
Vermont saw a record number of fatal opiate overdoses in 2017, making it the third straight year the grim milestone has been reset, according to recently released state Health Department data.

Vermont registered 107 non-suicide fatal overdoses in 2017, up from 106 in 2016 and 75 in 2015.

Health Department data make clear that the spread of fentanyl, a synthetic opiate many times more powerful than heroin, has been a major driver of the problem.

Two-thirds of the fatalities in 2017 involved fentanyl, up from 50 percent in 2016, according to the department. The number of opiate overdose fatalities involving fentanyl in Vermont has nearly quadrupled since 2014.

Meanwhile, fatal overdoses that involved heroin and prescription drugs fell in 2017, though many people overdose with a mixture of drugs in their system.

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Health Group Chair Says She Was 'Silenced' by Scott Administration

Posted By on Thu, Mar 15, 2018 at 12:14 PM

Mary Kate Mohlman, state director of health care reform, and Al Gobeille, secretary of the Agency of Human Services - FILE: TERRI HALLENBECK
  • File: Terri Hallenbeck
  • Mary Kate Mohlman, state director of health care reform, and Al Gobeille, secretary of the Agency of Human Services
The cochair of a health care advisory panel resigned this week over frustrations with the governor her group was charged with advising.

In a scathing letter to Gov. Phil Scott, Mary Val Palumbo accused his administration of ignoring recommendations from the Governor's Health Care Workforce Work Group and attempting to squelch dissent.

"Our feedback does not align with the current [Agency of Human Services] stance and budget proposal, and we are being silenced," Palumbo wrote.

An associate professor at the University of Vermont's College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Palumbo has led the work group since then-governor Peter Shumlin established it in 2013. The panel, which includes roughly two dozen health care professionals and administration officials, is charged with recommending approaches to recruit and retain health care workers in Vermont.

Another member of the group, Stowe psychologist Rick Barnett, also recently resigned, expressing frustrations similar to Palumbo's.

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Thursday, January 25, 2018

Safe Response Team to Knock on Doors After Burlington Overdoses

Posted By on Thu, Jan 25, 2018 at 1:28 PM

A kit with the overdose-reversing drug Narcan - COURTESY: DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
  • Courtesy: Department of Health
  • A kit with the overdose-reversing drug Narcan
Come February, three Burlington city officials plan to visit the home of every person in the city who overdoses on drugs.

Burlington opioid policy manager Jackie Corbally, Deputy Police Chief Shawn Burke and Fire Chief Steve Locke will make up Burlington's new safe response team, which will launch February 1 as a four-month pilot.

The team will visit within 24 hours of an overdose — ideally on the same day, Corbally said. At each home, the team will offer resources for treatment, contact information for Corbally and the overdose-reversing drug Narcan. Corbally said she expects the team will respond to two to five calls each week.

“We’re going to be relentless,” she said. “We are going to find folks and let them know we care.”

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Monday, January 22, 2018

Study: Health Department's Opiate Treatment System Is Succeeding

Posted By on Mon, Jan 22, 2018 at 3:42 PM

A kit with the overdose-reversing drug Narcan - COURTESY: DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
  • Courtesy: Department of Health
  • A kit with the overdose-reversing drug Narcan
The Vermont Department of Health’s four-year-old "hub and spoke" model for treating opiate addiction led to a 96 percent reduction in patients’ usage of the dangerous drugs, according to a report released Monday.

Authored by University of Vermont professor Richard Rawson, the study found that hub and spoke patients recorded an 89 percent decrease in emergency department visits after they received treatment and a 90 percent drop in police stops and arrests. By several measures, the report found that users receiving care in the treatment system were dramatically better off than users who were not receiving care.

Perhaps most encouragingly, none of the participants in treatment had overdosed in the three months leading up to the study interview, compared to 25 percent who had overdosed in the three months before entering treatment.

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