On December 29, 2021

Covid: A Gifford point of view

By Curt Peterson

Dr. Josh White, chief medical officer at Gifford Medical Center, told the Mountain Times costs attributable to Covid total “well into millions.” The financial expense of the virus is important, but isn’t the only significant toll on providers.

Courtesy Gifford Medical Center
Gifford Medical Center in Randolph serves patients across central Vermont including those in Rutland and Windsor counties.

Located in Randolph, Gifford is part of a network of six healthcare facilities throughout central Vermont, and an essential source of wellness, treatment and repair for some of our readers. Randolph is in Orange County, but patients come from Rutland and Windsor counties, which are experiencing the surge in Covid cases disproportionately, ranking two and three among Vermont’s 14 counties.

Gifford has 25 licensed hospital beds, but “availability,” Dr. White said, “is dependent on nursing staffing and acuity.”

Gifford doesn’t have an intensive care unit (ICU).

ICU facilities are necessary to handle severe Covid cases that can lead to death. The Covid death count in the U. S. recently exceeded 800,000, which is nearing 1 of 300 Americans, and 1 of 100 Americans over age 65.

A small hospital, Gifford has one “hospitalist team” managing all patients, including those with Covid-related illness.

“On any given day there is one physician, one [Advanced Practice Registered Nurse/Physician Assistant],” Dr. White said. “Typically they will try to give a single nurse the Covid patients at any given time, such that s/he is not moving back and forth between Covid and non-Covid.”

As of Dec. 20, there were no Covid patients at Gifford, but that can change daily.

Everyone is required to be masked within hospital walls. Staff wear N95 masks, eye protection, gowns and gloves when with patients. Visitors are allowed to see patients one at a time.

Gifford invests heavily in Covid management outreach, providing “Drive-through free testing, … independent contact tracing, monoclonal antibodies, numerous education media pieces, and vaccination/booster clinics.”

In spite of the obvious effort, dedication and investment by administration and staff, protecting people from Covid infections and helping them recover, Dr. White said that Gifford has, like other healthcare providers, experienced disrespectful, intolerant, even abusive behavior from patients.

What have we become?

The majority of Gifford’s Covid patients have been unvaccinated, which is also true nationwide. The figure is more telling in Vermont, where the overall vaccination rate is among the highest in the country.

He believes a “lock-down would help reduce the number of cases, but would be expensive in many ways, including for the local economy.”

In a short period of time the super-contagious Omicron variant of Covid-19 has progressed from an oddity versus Delta infections in the U.S. to more than 70% of positive tests nationwide, a bad omen on the heels of the current surge in Vermont.

Dr. White said because Gifford doesn’t have an ICU for the very serious cases, “We do not expect to be overwhelmed with Covid patients. We struggle with staffing shortages, like every other hospital. At any given time, we cannot accept as many patients as we otherwise might, as we don’t have the nurses to care for patients.”

The best thing we can do, he said, is to work to prevent infections in the first place.

“Vaccinate like mad, employ monoclonal antibodies, educate. We have done well with this locally, and it appears to be working,” he said.

“Plan B would be for the state to call in the National Guard to staff hospitals, as they have in New York, New Hampshire and Maine,” he said. “[Federal Emergency Management Agency] is assisting with staffing regionally as well.”

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