CEO Coronavirus Update – May 19, 2020

| News

It’s been just over two months since coronavirus completely captured the attention and the actions of our nation. After more than eight weeks, it’s understandable that many people are getting complacent if they live in an area with a low incidence of the virus, as we are experiencing in Vermont. However, part of the reason we have the lowest growth rate of coronavirus of any state in the nation is that we have been so vigilant and cautious. Yes, we have space in Vermont to physically distance, but that’s not the only reason we have a relatively low number of cases, so far, in this battle. The following four actions need to remain a routine part of our lives in order for us to continue to be successful:

  • Wear A Mask
  • Don’t Touch Your Face
  • Wash Your Hands
  • Stay At Least 6’ Away from Everyone Outside Your Household

I have been in the habit of putting my mask on as I am getting out of my car to enter Grace Cottage or the market, and wondered why I’ve seen many people wearing masks as they drive alone in their cars. I thought it might be because they didn’t want to go to the trouble of putting them on and taking them off as they go from store to gas station, etc. Then it hit me – when you’re wearing a mask, it’s harder to touch your face! Yes, it’s harder to breathe when you have a mask on, and I don’t particularly like wearing one, but we have to remind ourselves that it would be even more difficult to breathe on a ventilator. A mask protects those we come into contact with if we have the virus, and that helps everyone by keeping the case numbers low.

You may have heard this, but it bears repeating: “The curve is flattening, so we can start lifting restrictions now” is similar to saying “The parachute has slowed our rate of descent, so we can take it off now.” Keep your mask on and stay safe!

To date, Windham County has had 77 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with three deaths. At Grace Cottage, we’ve conducted 277 coronavirus tests, with 11 positive tests (the most recent positive result was on April 20th.) Patients are starting to come back, carefully and cautiously, for appointments with primary care providers, occupational and physical therapy visits, and for lab and diagnostic imaging tests. Messenger Valley Pharmacy will open again for walk-in customers on June 1, with a limit of four customers allowed in the store at any one time (curbside service continues to be available until then).

There has been much publicity about progress being made on the development of a Coronavirus vaccine. Moderna, a renowned Massachusetts-based biotech company, has had tremendous success with early trials, which they say could yield a vaccine for the public as early as January. Moderna is one of eight developers worldwide doing human clinical trials with a vaccine targeting COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization. This is extremely promising news, a testament to human ingenuity and intellect, and a demonstration of what can be achieved with razor-sharp focus and determination.

But as we anxiously wait for the wide availability of a vaccine for the virus, we want you to know that we continue to be concerned about your health and the possible effects of further delays in your medical care for conditions that, if left undiagnosed and/or untreated, may become urgent. Please make an appointment with your primary care provider if there is something you are concerned about and, if you don’t feel comfortable coming in, we can arrange a phone or video visit. We are here for you.

I’d like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank everyone who rapidly and readily stepped in to help ensure that Grace Cottage survived these last two months. We were at a very critical juncture in the hospital’s history, with a 50-60% reduction in patient visits and inpatient stays because people were staying home, as instructed, and elective procedures were cancelled. This translated to a loss of approximately $700,000 per month due to decreased revenues. We reached out to many of our supporters, and donations came pouring in for our COVID-19 Fund, with numerous gifts also coming from those we hadn’t even asked yet. You all built a bridge, helping to get this small, independent community hospital through a very vulnerable time. Fortunately, thanks to these donations and funding which we have now received from the CARES Act, and more appointments now being booked and more patients receiving our competent and compassionate care in the hospital, we’re on stronger financial footing, for now. The financial model for small, rural, independent hospitals remains broken, and we continue to rely on your generosity to make up the difference between the cost of providing care and the reimbursement for care until this situation is remedied by the Federal government, as we hope it will be, in view of the fact that 19 hospitals permanently closed across the country last year, and 12 so far this year.

On another note, I want to thank our community for stepping forward to support us in other ways, too. Many of you participate in our annual events and, thanks to you, we had our most successful Spring into Health 5K to date. 144 people ran, walked, or strolled virtually (plus one horse and many dogs!) and sent us their photographs, which are posted in an album on Facebook here (You don’t need to have a Facebook account to view this album). It looks as if everyone had a wonderful time being active, and took such engaging and fun photos of themselves!

We have three more events coming up this summer, and I have updates on all of them (be sure to check back on our website, though, because, as we all know, the only thing that’s constant these days is change):

Our Tee It Up for Health Golf benefit, originally scheduled for June, will be held on Saturday, October 3 at the Brattleboro Country Club. We have many generous sponsors already, and we look forward to the 111th year of this great tournament, organized with the help of Elizabeth Walker.

Our 15th annual Tour de Grace will go forward as planned on Saturday, June 27, but the route will be different this year, to allow for physical distancing. The bicycle ride will begin and end at Grace Cottage Family Health & Hospital’s Wolff Outpatient Building. The ride will be a 15-mile loop up Route 30, across the Scott Covered Bridge, back over the Townshend Dam, and then along Route 30 and/or wooded trails to River Road in Jamaica, then back to Grace Cottage. Registration is open at The first 100 riders to sign up will receive Tour de Grace t-shirts.

With the cancellation of so many large gatherings this summer, it will probably not come as a surprise that we must change Hospital Fair Day 2020 to a virtual event. There is so much uncertainty about the virus in the future, and out of an abundance of caution we must do all that we can to keep our volunteers, our employees, and our fairgoers safe. Fair Day and physical distancing do not go together, either in the process of collecting and sorting items that takes place months in advance, nor at the actual event. So we will be taking the Auction, t-shirts, and other booths online, and asking you to help us raise the $50,000 that the hospital relies on from our annual Fair Day for needed improvements and updated equipment (during the past two years, Fair Day funds have paid for a new generator for Grace Cottage Family Health and an air-handling system for Grace Cottage Hospital). Visit our website at to keep up-to-date on Hospital Fair Day plans. And we’ll look forward to seeing you on the Townshend Common in August, 2021!

Due to the Memorial Day Holiday, I will not be sending an update next week, but will resume on June 2nd.

Best wishes for a safe holiday weekend,

Doug DiVello
President & CEO