By Dr. Elizabeth Hunt
I am appreciative of Vermont and Vermonters, particularly now and especially with a recent event in my life. My seventy-seven-year-old father had urgent open-heart surgery in New Jersey at the end of October following a heart attack. As a physician and can-do person, I thought caring for him after discharge would be easy.
I thought I’d pick him up at the hospital, get him settled in his condo and eat scrambled eggs for days in quarantine in between dressing changes and medication dosing. It was a hard ten days. My father recovered very well, thankfully, but challenges popped up nonetheless. Not many people in the Garden State were wearing masks or showing caution, despite moderate rates of COVID. Walking on the beach was my solace but on warm days there were throngs of people.
These observations made me nervous for COVID pressure from the northeast affecting Vermont. I felt thankful knowing I’d get to go home and live among like-minded Vermonters who believe in common sense. Knowing our state has benefited from excellent leadership from Governor Scott and Commissioner Levine felt good. Upon return to our state, I had my COVID test at Bennington Rescue Squad; a safe and professional experience.
While caring for my father in quarantine, I decided to go through his health care documents and get him organized. His former PCP retired due to COVID and he chose a new internist this summer. That said, his new doctor would not see him or manage his care without records, and they would not accept his old records in an electronic form. Not on disc or jump drive or via secure email. Paper only. Seven hundred pages of records.
He has a 20-year-old Inkjet printer, and we were in quarantine. We whittled his records down to about 150 pages of pertinent information. I re-directed my efforts to shoring up connections to his health care.
The TV is on often at my dad’s and full of commercials show smiling older Americans easily navigating the numerous health care entities in their communities. This did not bear out in our reality. We made it so I could see his labs if they were done at one health care system, and that took hours to accomplish. Each provider seems to be associated with a different electronic health record, and therefore a different portal with a different passcode. And they clearly were not talking to each other.
The hospital that performed his coronary artery bypass sent his discharge information to the old PCP. Before medical school, I worked in public health and throughout the years, I have always been an advocate of universal health care that prioritizes delivery and ease of navigation by patients. This optimism for sensible health care with minimal boundaries faded as I read through his charts and waited on hold for hours with his providers.
As refreshing as the Sip of Sunshine stash I brought with me on this road trip, the annual 207th Vermont Medical Society meeting occurred while I was in quarantine and I attended remotely. This group of healthcare professionals I feel proud to be part of celebrated leaders like State Senator Ginny Lyons, Dr. Mark Levine, Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious disease specialist Dr. Jessie Leyse, and family doctor and Charlotte resident Dr. Jean Andersson-Swayze.
We also discussed and pledged support toward one another, patient care and health care reform. There is merit in our Vermont health care system—value- based payments and robust care coordination to name a few—and rich history in Vermont medicine. Our current health care system is not equitable—and sure as heck confuses most consumers, even health care providers themselves!
Vermont has a better shot at digging out of this crisis than other states. And the Medical Society’s ideological nod towards principles of universality and single payer were well timed—both for the future of health in Vermont, and our nation, and for me, swimming in paperwork. I am most thankful for my family. After sleeping in the basement and not touching my three kids for days, I got my test result and re-entered warm, cuddly, loud family life! Back home in Vermont —yes!