NEWS: Sanders Tours Addison and Rutland Counties

BURLINGTON, May 6 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) visited five locations in Addison County and Rutland County on Wednesday: two federally qualified health centers, a parent child center, a high school, and a medical center.

“I have looked forward to traveling around the state and speaking with Vermonters in person again for a very long time. This past year has been incredibly difficult for all of us. But especially for our youth, working families, educators, front line workers and health care providers,” said Sanders. “It is very clear that many, many organizations throughout Vermont stepped up in a big way and did excellent work to ensure they continued serving our people. I’m very grateful that I had the opportunity to hear from some of these critical organizations in Bristol, Middlebury, and Rutland. I have no doubt that we can continue to work together to meet the needs of Vermonters and move our state forward.”

Sanders’ first stop was at Mountain Health Center in Bristol, a federally qualified health center that provides primary, dental, and mental health care to over 4,000 Vermonters a year. Sanders met with several providers and staff, viewed their mobile care unit and toured the dental center. The group discussed the need to make dental care more accessible to area residents, the center’s efforts to improve their telemedicine capabilities, and how they plan to use their share of the state’s $33 million in federal funding secured by Sanders in the American Rescue Plan. Martha Halnon, CEO of the Five-Town Health Alliance, spoke about what this new federal funding means for the center, saying, “For us at the Five-Town Health Alliance FQHC, it means we can continue to meet our mission, meet the needs of our community, and all of our patients, including the most vulnerable. The COVID-19 pandemic has created some extra challenges for many, and one of those is access to high quality dental care, especially the Medicaid population. With this influx of funding, we will be able to deepen and widen many of our existing services as well as expand into new services.”

Sanders then visited the Addison County Parent Child Center in Middlebury, which provides education, childcare, and support services to 1,636 children and parents. He met with staff and parents, and toured a classroom. Some of the topics discussed included the center’s work to support parents and children, the need for more affordable housing in the area, and support for better pay and benefits for child care providers. Donna Bailey, Director of the Addison County Parent Child Center, spoke about the importance of early childhood education to the overall health and well-being of families, saying, “Parenting is not easy, especially for those who live in poverty. Even while working full time, parents may be trapped by being under-resourced, which can affect a family for generations. We prioritize, making sure that our families find the right services for their particular and unique situations. The way Parent Child Centers work with a family as a whole unit is the most effective way to bring about positive change.”

Following the visit to the parent child center, Sanders stopped at Community Health in Rutland, which provides care to over three-quarters of all Rutland County residents. During the meeting, staff discussed the need for dentists and mental health providers, ideas to improve telemedicine services, and their hope to expand transportation services. Donald Reuther, CEO of Community Health, spoke about how ongoing federal support helps the center expand their operations and care for more Vermonters. He said, “That support is allowing us to build an integrated collaborative delivery system where patients are guided through their healthcare journey. That support allows us to address the gaps in service in the community, and it allows us to bring healthcare to where it is needed; in small-town schools and into patient’s homes.”

Sanders, who has held several virtual events with Vermont students in recent months, then met with administrators, teachers, staff and students at Rutland High School. During a tour and classroom visits, Sanders acknowledged the unique challenges young people have faced during the COVID 19-pandemic, thanked teachers and staff for their hard work throughout the year, and discussed the $71 million in federal education funding that is now available statewide to support students and expand afterschool and summer opportunities. Bill Olsen, Superintendent of the Rutland City Public Schools, said, “Not only will these federal funds support the efforts of our staff in addressing the effects of the global pandemic, but they afford our schools an incredible opportunity over the next three years to build upon an educational system that benefits all of our students and our community.”

Sanders’ last stop of the day was at the Rutland Regional Medical Center. Sanders was greeted by dozens of providers who have worked tirelessly to care for Vermonters throughout the pandemic, met with staff and providers and toured the hospital’s Emergency Department. They discussed how the hospital used federal emergency funds to continue their vital operations over the last year, as well as the challenges on the front lines of health care, including a nursing shortage and the difficulty attracting providers to rural areas. Claudio Fort, President and CEO of the Rutland Regional Medical Center, said of the visit, “I was proud to share how the Rutland Regional staff responded to the pandemic. We could not have responded as well as we have without the Senator’s support of the funding needed for our hospital to stay open and responsive during the pandemic. We appreciate his commitment to helping us in the long recovery from this unprecedented global health crisis.”

At each stop, Sanders thanked the organizations and meeting participants for their informative insights and dedication to serving Vermonters. “There is no doubt that we’ve made significant progress on many issues, but we have a lot of work to do,” said Sanders. “We need to deal with childcare affordability and provider pay, the health care workforce shortage, mental health care accessibility, affordable housing and transportation infrastructure. And we’ve got to make sure we’re supporting the social, emotional, and educational needs of our young people, who are the future of this country. I look forward to working with Vermonters across our state, with the President, and Congress to finally address the crises that have been neglected for so long” said Sanders.