By LEE J. KAHRS
RUTLAND COUNTY — As the COVID-19 pandemic surges yet again, Vermont is breaking new infection records almost daily. In fact, there are more new cases now than were reported at the original height of the pandemic in April and May. On Monday, there were 122 new cases in Vermont, a new daily record.
In Rutland County, there have been 185 cases and one death, but there have been 52 new positive cases in the last 14 days, according to the Vermont Department of Health
So, how is Rutland County poised to handle this next wave of infection? That was the question for Don Roether, Chief Operating Officer for Community Health Centers of Rutland County (CHCRC).
“We meet almost daily to discuss our plan going forward,” Roether said in a phone interview Monday. “Doctors, nurses, home health workers, staff members, we all meet regularly.”
Community Health opened in 2004 as Community Health Centers of the Rutland Region providing a network of medical, dental and behavioral health care, the largest of 12 federally qualified health centers in Vermont. There are now seven medical facilities under the umbrella of CHCRR health center, Rutland, Brandon, West Pawlet (Mettowee), Shoreham, Castleton, Community Health Pediatrics, Community Health Dental, and Brandon Community Pharmacy.
In 2019, CHCRR handled close to 187,900 patient visits, providing care to over 41,800 patients in the Rutland County/southern Addison County region, which includes over three-quarters of the residents of Rutland County.
Roether said during the last surge in the spring, CHCRC established a good plan to both handle COVID patients and patients who needed to be seen for non-COVID medical issues.
“WE can see screen and send those patients to get the proper treatment they need for COVID,” he said. “At most clinics, there are separate entrances for respiratory illnesses, which helps us monitor patients flow and treatment more effectively.”
The community health centers that don’t have separate entrances hold well sessions and sick sessions, separating suspected COVID patients from other patients.
“That’s our goal, to make sure we can treat people who are ill and still see patients who need care,” he said. “The problem was, people with chronic conditions don’t want to come in for fear of exposure to COVID.”
CHCRC also offers rapid response COVID testing at all its clinics. He says right now, most often patients who suspect they contracted COVID end up having the flu. Either way, he said the rapid response testing cuts down on patient traffic at the hospitals.
Other improvements include new HEPA filters and ultraviolet sanitizers in heating and ventilation systems at all the CHCRC clinics.
Just like the schools, Roether said they are having staff members check in about any holiday travel plans and the necessary14-day quarantine that is now mandatory.
“We are following all Department of Health and CDC guidelines,” he said. “The staff has been good about telling us travel plans. I understand that when separated from family for so long, sometimes you just have to see them.”
Finally, Roether reported that CHCRC has over a three-month supply of personal protection equipment (PPE) for doctors, nurses and staff, something that was in much shorter supply last spring.
“Yes, we have absolutely been stockpiling,” he said.