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Guest Column: SVMC Preparing for Coronavirus Containment, Treatment
04:03PM / Sunday, March 15, 2020
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Open letter from Thomas Dee, president and CEO, of Southwestern Vermont Health Care.
Dear Community Member,
The health and safety of the patients, caregivers, and communities we serve is our most important priority. Our hospital and community health centers remain open and safe, and there has been no disruption to the high-quality patient care that we provide.
Beginning in mid-January, Southwestern Vermont Health Care (SVHC) took a proactive and measured approach for planning for the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19, by holding daily multidisciplinary meetings. When confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States escalated, we immediately implemented appropriate response protocols. When SVHC admitted Vermont's first presumptive positive patient on March 5, 2020, our clinicians were prepared.
Prior to this patient's diagnosis, our health system was working collaboratively and in coordination with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Vermont Department of Health as well as our region's first responders. SVHC has taken every precaution to ensure that we continue to provide all patients, including those with possible COVID-19, with the highest quality care while protecting hospital staff, other patients and visitors. Several proactive initiatives underway across our health system, include:
Updating our Emergency Department screening protocols to rapidly detect patients with possible COVID-19.
Redesigning our main entrance to include a respiratory screening check-in station, where patients and visitors are issued a mask if they have a cough.
Implementing drive-up testing for patients that have a medical order from their primary-care provider. The service allows patients to remain in their cars while registered nurses wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) swab their nose. Patients need to practice self-isolation until results are known, which typically arrive to the primary-care provider within 96 hours.
Increasing the number of rooms with negative pressure capacity, which controls ventilation through containment of potentially infectious matter and is a key factor in assuring we can meet the needs of the community. 
Developing a COVID-19 Informational Hotline (802-440-8844) that is available 24/7 and staffed Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., which includes clinical triage.
Strictly enforcing our Flu Visitation Policy that restricts visitors from the hospital if they have symptoms of infectious disease (respiratory or gastrointestinal). Additionally, visitors are limited to those who are over the age of 18 and patients are not permitted to have more than two visitors at a time. 
Regularly updating providers about the status of the outbreak and our evolving understanding of the epidemiology of this disease.
Implementing a robust training program on the appropriate use of personal protective equipment.
Planning for the potential influx of a large number of COVID-19 patients for ensuing months.
As this situation continues to evolve, we remain committed to providing the latest information to our patients, employees, and the public. We are in continuous communication with state and national officials to gather the most up-to-date information; we are issuing daily updates to all personnel within the SVHC system; and we are providing regular updates to the public through our website and social media channels.
We are focusing on what we can control: screening patients; training and educating our caregivers; making sure hospital processes are in place; and educating the public to practice hand hygiene, covering your coughs and sneezes, avoiding close contact, and clean and disinfect. 
If you have COVID-19 symptoms, or have come into contact with someone that has COVID-19, contact your primary-care provider. Following CDC and infectious disease physician recommendations, we are asking those without severe symptoms to avoid the Emergency Department. This will allow the doctors and nurses to focus attention on those most sick and in need of hospitalization. In an abundance of caution for our community and caregivers, we are postponing all events and/or suspending all caregiver participation at events effective immediately for the immediate future, and actively practicing social distancing.
Please visit for the most up-to-date information on COVID-19 as well as links to the CDC's and Department of Health resources and phone numbers. Because this is a novel virus, we expect the situation to evolve. We will continue to monitor and adapt to the situation.
Thank you for your continued support and entrusting us with your care.
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