Report Confirms Vermonters’ Stories of Delays to Care and Calls for New Reporting and Transparency
Montpelier, VT – The state team examining waits for health appointments released its findings today identifying lengthy wait times for Vermonters accessing certain specialty care.
Then-Secretary of the Agency of Human Services Michael Smith announced the probe last fall after Seven Days chronicled long waits for appointments. The Green Mountain Care Board and Vermont Department of Financial Regulation joined the inquiry soon after.
The three agencies began their work by convening public forums and soliciting written patient experiences that indicated waits for specialty care could be particularly long. Medical providers from around the state were also invited to contribute. Providers confirmed the challenges Vermonters faced in accessing timely specialty care and expressed concern about patients in need of services.
“This report gathers information from across the state through multiple methods and confirms the testimonials we received from community members and providers over the course of our evaluation,” said Ena Backus, Vermont’s Director of Health Care Reform. “We studied this issue during an unprecedented time of disruption and strain for the health care system and know the pandemic exacerbated system challenges. Nevertheless, health care providers have done everything in their power to meet Vermonters’ care needs and are national leaders in COVID-19 response. We look forward to working with our partners across independent clinics, hospitals, and the entire health care system to ensure every Vermonter can get care when they need it.”
The report includes detailed analyses of Vermont’s health care system using health claims data, chart audits, and a “Secret Shopper” where state employees made over 1,000 calls to seek appointments for 21 different specialties. Claims data going back to 2016 reveal wait times were consistently long even before the Covid-19 pandemic. The chart audits and secret shopper calls revealed that certain specialties in Vermont, both private practice and hospital-affiliated, have considerably longer wait times than others – and the same was true within the same specialty for different providers.
The aging of Vermont’s provider community and the expected “tsunami” of delayed care brought on by the pandemic have the potential to exacerbate wait times into the future.
“There is a clear urgency here,” said Susan Barrett, Executive Director of the Green Mountain Care Board. “This report begins a conversation about how to better serve Vermonters.”
The report lays out a series of recommendations to address wait times issues in Vermont. Chief among these is for the Department of Financial Regulation to request authority from the Vermont Legislature to systematically collect wait times data and make it available to the public. The move would make Vermont unique among states in monitoring this issue. Currently only Veterans Affairs hospitals regularly publish wait times estimates.
The report’s other recommendations include asking hospitals and health care entities to prioritize wait times at the highest levels, coordinate with each other to share successful strategies, and make operational changes to speed the referral process.
“It is critical for Vermont’s health care system and the state government to come together to make progress on this very important issue – the pandemic has shown just how much we can accomplish when working together for the betterment of Vermonters,” said Michael Pieciak, the Commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation.
The state evaluation team also thanked health care providers, staff, and hospitals in the report for their tireless work to keep Vermonters safe during the pandemic. “As we turn towards recovery and revitalization from the disruptions of Covid-19, we can address these challenges through transparency and collaboration,” said Backus. “If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that we can use this moment to reshape the health of our communities.”