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December 09, 2013

Four Intoxicated Women Land in ER While "Pregaming" for UVM Sorority Event

602568_537445739660873_1306012350_n’Tis the season for raising holiday spirits, but evidently, a few University of Vermont students raised them a bit too often this weekend — even before the party officially started.

The Vermont State Police reported that at about 7:30 Saturday night, three female UVM students headed to a sorority function at the Old Lantern in Charlotte had to be taken by ambulance to the emergency room at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington due to overintoxication. According to police, the women, who were all headed to the winter formal sponsored by UVM's Delta Delta Delta sorority chapter, arrived by bus and hadn't even entered the party before they got sick. 

Continue reading "Four Intoxicated Women Land in ER While "Pregaming" for UVM Sorority Event" »

December 02, 2013

"Milestone" or Millstone? In Vermont Health Connect Announcement, There's Good News and Bad


"Very pleased."

"Another significant step forward for us."

That's how Department of Vermont Health Access Commissioner Mark Larson characterized the latest news about the state's new insurance exchange, Vermont Health Connect, in a phone call with reporters Monday morning. 

The headline? After a two-month delay, the exchange will finally be able to bill Vermonters for the plans they bought through Vermont Health Connect. Starting Tuesday, the state will begin mailing invoices to individuals who enroll through the exchange. Consumers will have until January 7 to mail back a check.

"I think this is clearly a milestone and a significant step forward," Larson said.

Downplayed in Larson's announcement were two potentially bigger pieces of news, which weren't so good:


Continue reading ""Milestone" or Millstone? In Vermont Health Connect Announcement, There's Good News and Bad" »

November 25, 2013

Shumlin Chastises Health Care Reform Official for Misleading Legislators

Larson.Tucker.LungeIn an uncharacteristic rebuke of one his own, Gov. Peter Shumlin said Monday he was "tremendously disappointed" with his chief health care reform administrator for misleading a legislative committee about a security lapse in the state's new health insurance exchange.

The official, Department of Vermont Health Access Commissioner Mark Larson, sent a letter of apology Monday morning to members of the House Health Care Committee. Larson said that after listening to a recording of his testimony at a November 5 committee hearing, he had come to the conclusion that he had been insufficiently candid with committee members.

The Associated Press' Dave Gram reported Friday that Larson's department had reported what it believed to be an isolated security breach to federal authorities prior to the commissioner's appearance before the committee. But Larson told committee members that DVHA had investigated only one complaint and believed it to be unfounded, according to Gram.

In his letter to legislators, Larson wrote that he "failed to disclose" the security breach to legislators, a lapse he said violated his responsibility to be fully transparent with his fellow public servants.

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November 12, 2013

Vermont Gun-Safety Advocates Focus on State's Suicide Rate

Gun sense 001

Vermont's high rate of suicide with firearms was the dominant theme of a well-attended and well-mannered forum held Monday night in Burlington City Hall.

Organized by advocates of gun-safety measures in a state with few firearms regulations, the event took place 50 yards from the site of a fatal shooting almost exactly two years ago. Josh Pfenning, 35, died on November 10, 2011, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound while camped in City Hall Park during the Occupy Burlington protests.

The way in which Pfenning died is not unusual in Vermont. With the exception of Pennsylvania, Vermont has the Northeast's highest per-capita rate of gun-related deaths, most of which take the form of suicide, said Eliot Nelson, a pediatrician at Fletcher Allen Health Care.

Vermonters are far more likely to kill themselves than one another, noted Sean Ackerman, a Fletcher Allen resident in child psychiatry. The state suicide rate stands at 16 deaths per 100,000 residents and the homicide rate is 1.6 per 100,000, he said, adding that more than half of suicides are carried out with firearms.

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November 11, 2013

Shumlin Says He's "Hopeful" Health Exchange Will Work By December

DSC06015Gov. Peter Shumlin said Monday he's "hopeful" the state's ailing health insurance exchange will be able to process payments electronically by the end of November. 

But citing his administration's inability to meet previous deadlines to fix that component of Vermont Health Connect, the governor declined to say when it would be fully functional.

"We're testing it right now, as you know. We're hopeful that those tests will continue to go very well," Shumlin said at a Montpelier press conference Monday afternoon. "As I've told you, I've learned a lesson as governor: I'll never say a date again. But I'm very hopeful that we'll have it up and running by the end of the month. That's my hope. I'm not promising. That's what we're working really hard to try and do."

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November 06, 2013

This Week's Issue: Little Italy, Big Prisons and a Band Called Phish

Cover-110613Happy November, everyone. If you're cooped up inside bemoaning the chill in the air and the absence of sunlight, hey, more time for reading Seven Days. And more time for a couch tour, if you're a Phish-head — our own Paul Heintz took a break from politics this week to look back at the Vermont band's 30 years on the jam circuit. Once you're finished with that long read, here are this week's newsy stories:

Read it all in print, online or on the iOS app.

October 31, 2013

Acknowledging Health Website Failures, Shumlin Extends Deadline

Shumlin podium.2Acknowledging that a poorly functioning website was making it impossible to hit the state's enrollment goals, Gov. Peter Shumlin this afternoon announced he was extending the deadline for small businesses and individuals to sign up for Vermont Health Connect from Jan. 1 to March 31. In the meantime, they will be allowed to continue using their existing plans. 

Additionally, Shumlin has deputized the two insurers offering plans in the market, Blue Cross Blue Shield Vermont and MVP Health Care, to act as "agents" of Vermont Heath Connect: Instead of signing up directly on the bug-ridden state website, businesses can sign up through the insurance companies, which will then register the plans with the exchange.

"These two additional options should give Vermonters going into the holiday season some (assurance) knowing there is no way they will lose insurance on January 1," Shumlin said during a press conference while standing in front of a phalanx of lawmakers, insurers and administration officials.

The announcement represents a dramatic reversal for the administration, which had been holding to the Jan. 1 deadline in the face of growing concerns about the website. 

Continue reading "Acknowledging Health Website Failures, Shumlin Extends Deadline" »

October 25, 2013

Labor Groups Press Schools on Sodexo Benefits Cuts


Update: At 11:15 a.m. on Friday, October 25, University of Vermont president Tom Sullivan sent an email to the school's faculty and staff with the news that "Sodexo employees will not experience changes in the current definition of employment status and associated benefits until further notice in order for the University to complete its analysis based on a full review of all relevant data and facts."

As reasons for the announcement, the president cited "a very tight timeframe" for affected employees to find health care; the "challenges" and "uncertainties" surrounding current health-care options; "The University’s obligation to complete its review of the proposed changes under the contract with Sodexo"; and the upcoming negotiations over a new contract with Sodexo ahead of the current one's expiration in June 2015.


When Sodexo revealed last month that it was changing the definition of a full-time employee to someone who works an average of 30 hours per week — according to the rules of the Affordable Care Act — many cried foul at colleges around the state who subcontract their dining services to the multinational company.

Only full-timers are eligible for company benefits, so when the new policy takes effect on January 1, many seasonal employees stand to be stripped of their health and dental insurance, sick and vacation days, and retirement packages. On the campuses of the University of Vermont and the Vermont state colleges, two coalitions of staff, faculty, students and labor groups have sprung up demanding that the schools intervene.

When the UVM trustees convene this weekend, one of those groups will use a public comment period on Saturday morning to present a petition — directed at UVM president Tom Sullivan and vice president for finance Richard Cate, who negotiate the school’s dining services contract — with more than 1000 signatures.

Denise Youngblood, a history professor and president of United Academics, the school’s faculty union, will also address the trustees. In her talk, Youngblood says, she’ll ask the board to urge that Sullivan and Cate take advantage of a clause in the current contract that requires the school’s approval for any change Sodexo makes in its employees’ working conditions. The existing contract will expire after 2015. 

“We believe that UVM should live up to its proclaimed social justice values,” says Youngblood. “Every employee who works on this campus should have a fair benefits package. No UVM employees are being treated the way Sodexo employees are being treated.”

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October 24, 2013

Shumlin Defends Implementation of Health Insurance Exchange, Sees Signs of Progress

DSC05971In his feistiest exchange with the press in months, Gov. Peter Shumlin on Thursday sought to reassure Vermonters that his administration is doing everything possible to remedy problems plaguing its new online health insurance portal.

But even as he expressed confidence that Vermont Health Connect's performance is improving every day, Shumlin avoided making specific promises about when the system would be fully functional.

"The bottom line is that I can't stand here truthfully, look you in the eye, and say, 'Hey, we've got this figured out right on a tight schedule to the moment, as we would with a road project,'" the governor told reporters at a press conference in the Pavilion State Office Building. "We're doing everything in our power to improve the structure that we have in place. I'm confident that we're going to get there. If we don't, I can assure you that we will have a path that will get us where we need to go."

Continue reading "Shumlin Defends Implementation of Health Insurance Exchange, Sees Signs of Progress" »

October 17, 2013

This Week's Issue: The State of Tech in Vermont


The Vermont Tech Jam comes to Burlington this Friday and Saturday, and Seven Days is marking the occasion with a package of technology-focused stories in this week's issue. Read about the world-leading companies that call Vermont home, one of iTunes' most popular kids podcasts, and an eerily intelligent robot that lives in Lincoln.

If you're looking for something even newsier, we've got that, too.

Get this week's issue on paper, online or on the app.

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