CEO Coronavirus Update – May 12, 2020

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These messages, which I’ve been sending out weekly since March 24th, have generated such a tremendous outpouring of support, including countless e-mails from many of you with positive messages, as well as donations in the form of financial contributions and personal protective equipment. Grace Cottage has been here for almost 71 years and we feel genuinely and completely embraced and cherished by our community — a community which, as we have learned, extends across many states and several countries. We thank all of you who have reached out to Grace Cottage in one way or another, from the bottom of our hearts.

The COVID-19 curve in Vermont has demonstrably flattened, going from a doubling of cases every three days to every 84 days. At Grace Cottage, we’ve done 248 tests to date, and we’ve had no new positive cases since April 19th. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been 926 positive test results statewide out of 20,871 tests collected and 53 deaths. 785 people have recovered from the virus and currently just 5 patients in the state are hospitalized with COVID-19. As a result, Governor Scott has announced that there will be a gradual reopening of the retail sector, beginning Monday, May 18, and summer camps and child care centers may open on June 1, providing that they follow specific guidelines.

Medical offices began reopening last week with the Governor’s approval, and we’re here and prepared to safely care for you when you’re ready to see a provider. We have made the following changes over the past eight weeks, to ensure the safety of our patients and our employees, and this is what you can expect when you come into any of our entrances, including the Emergency Department, Hospital Outpatient Entrance, Wolff Outpatient Building for rehab services, or Grace Cottage Family Health:

  • A screener will greet and stop you just inside the doorway. You will be given a mask to put on immediately if you’re not wearing your own. You will need to wear the mask throughout your visit, and may take it home with you to wear when you are out in the community.
  • The screener will ask you if you’ve had a fever or a cough, or if you think that you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19. They will then take your temperature with a temporal thermometer that swipes across your forehead.
  •  All of the chairs in our waiting rooms have been spaced at least 6’ apart and are disinfected throughout the day, and our examination rooms and diagnostic equipment are disinfected between patients.
  •  Unless you have been pre-approved to bring a caregiver or companion with you or you are under age 18, no one will be able to come into the facility with you. If you need someone to drive you to your appointment, they will be asked to wait outside or in the car.

We have implemented this phased-in approach to returning to business-as-usual because we want to be sure that the number of COVID-19 cases in this area continues to decline.

Like most other hospitals in the nation, we have experienced a significant and damaging drop in operating income during the past eight weeks, as patients have followed instructions and have stayed home. The pandemic hammered us financially, and the hospital’s continued existence was uncertain. Thanks to the CARES Act, including the Payroll Protection Program, and generous donations from individuals and grants from Foundations, we have received an infusion of cash at a critical time for our survival.

Even before this pandemic, small, rural, independent hospitals like Grace Cottage were in critical condition, due to reductions in federal funding through Medicaid and Medicare. In fact, 19 rural hospitals in the U.S. permanently closed their doors in 2019, more than any prior year on record. We are now presented with an opportunity for change and we, along with other hospitals throughout the country, are working diligently to put a spotlight on this problem that has been ignored for a very long time. Small, rural hospitals need to be adequately reimbursed for the services that we provide. It has become clear that when this is over, we can’t go back to the days of teetering on the edge of financial survival due to reduced and declining Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. We are determined to do everything in our power to ensure that Grace Cottage will always be here when you need us.

As the beauty of spring in Vermont takes our breath away and we pause to admire blossoms, birds, rushing streams, and new growth, please remember to take good care of yourself and your family, friends, and neighbors. Reach out (virtually, or from a 6’ distance) to see how you can help, providing emotional and/or physical support in whatever way is possible during these times. You’ll feel better, and so will they.

Doug DiVello
President & CEO