BURLINGTON, Vt.—It often takes more than six months to obtain a medical appointment at the University of Vermont Medical Center, according to findings from a survey released today of UVMMC nurses, family members and friends, echoing the hospital’s nurse shortage problem that puts patient safety at risk.
Hearing anecdotes about difficulties getting timely access to healthcare at UVMMC, the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals conducted an online survey last week to see what’s going on.
“We found a callous environment in which UVMMC treats patients as widgets, not members of our community who should be treated with dignity and in a timely way,” said VFNHP President Laurie Aunchman.
Aunchman said these problems parallel a key issue the union is raising during ongoing contract negotiations. Just as there aren’t enough medical staff to offer timely appointments, there are too few nurses to handle patient loads, Aunchman said, noting that there are more than 150 nurse vacancies. “Both situations create a dangerous safety risk to patients. This is not how a well-functioning, world-class hospital operates,” she said.
“Our union is the ‘check and balance’ on UVMMC, which needs to step up its game and improve its practices for patients and nurses,” Aunchman said. “The public ranks nurses as among the most trusted workers. The hospital needs to listen to what we are saying. We are reporting real patient care problems that need to be fixed.”
Of VFNHP’s 1,800 members, about 320 responded—of which 132 identified themselves as UVMMC nurses—to the survey about several issues at the hospital, including access to care, which elicited some of the most disturbing responses. Aunchman said that because of these results, the union is going to survey the general public.
Highlights of survey findings on access to care:
- More than eight in 10, or 83 percent, said they experienced difficulties getting an appointment in a timely manner.
- Written comment: “When my husband needed to see a neurologist, he could not get an appointment at UVMMC. A private neurologist diagnosed his Parkinson’s disease and referred him to UVMMC, and it took almost nine months for him to get an appointment.”
- Written comment: “Sleep center, rheumatology and dermatology are ridiculously backlogged. Like 6-8 months. Unacceptable!”
- Written comment about the need for an ear, nose and throat specialist: “The first available appointment was in six months. … My wife decided to drive to New York City to see a specialist because that was easier and she could see an expert in the field within two weeks.”
- Forty-two percent said they experienced delays in patient care.
- Written comment: “Often had to wait an excessive amount of time for an appointment. When I finally would get an appointment, the wait was often excessive and would run, at times, an hour-plus past my actual appointment time.”
- Forty-four percent said they avoided needed care because the cost was prohibitive.
“Patients shouldn’t have to wait six months or longer to see a doctor. This tells us the hospital has lost its way and is operating in a dysfunctional, risky manner,” Aunchman said.