Home News and Features State Addresses Concerns About Housing COVID-19 Patients at Goddard

State Addresses Concerns About Housing COVID-19 Patients at Goddard

Notice posted on Goddard College campus. The state has now decided not to go forward with the facility. Photo by Mara Brooks
The Vermont Agency of Human Services responded to calls for transparency from concerned citizens following reports that the state plans to lease portions of Goddard College to house vulnerable patients recovering from COVID-19.  In a document posted on its website Thursday, the agency provided additional details about the proposed living facility.

“One thing that was not done as effectively as it should have been early on was enough communication with the community,” AHS Deputy Secretary Kerry Sleeper said in an interview with The Bridge. “And that has led to a lot of rumors. There is no such thing as overcommunication during this crisis.”

In recent days, residents have taken to social media to express fears of increased community exposure to the virus should plans for the facility go forward. On the Facebook page Plainfield People, citizens expressed a variety of concerns, including that prison inmates could be among the “vulnerable populations” recovering at Goddard. Sleeper said such fears are unfounded. 

“There are no plans for inmates to be at the Goddard facility,” Sleeper said. “And no one with a violent criminal history will be placed at the Goddard location.” Criminal background checks will be conducted on patients before they enter the program, he said.

Photo of Kerry Sleeper. Courtesy of Vermont State Police.where he was a former commissioner.
As for who would be housed at Goddard, Sleeper said patient profiles could vary. 

“It could be exposed healthcare workers who don’t want to return home to expose their families, it could be homeless people,” he said. 

Some residents claim the state’s failure to inform the community of its plans or involve them in the decision-making process helped set the stage for a climate of fear and distrust.

“It seems like Goddard made the deal without having real plans in place and is now trying to fill the gap,” Plainfield resident Jeremy Chouinard said. “The people of the town were not significantly included in the discussion until it was almost a done deal.”

Chouinard said he does not mind if Goddard is used for housing patients “if it is really a necessity,” but believes the state and college should have operated with transparency.

“Goddard most likely stands to make a lot of money from this project as well, which should be disclosed,” Chouinard said.

Other residents question the logic of introducing the virus to a community that has so far seemed relatively free from exposure.

Goddard College Sign. Photo by Mara Brooks.
“I’m unaware of any cases of this [COVID-19] in Plainfield and Marshfield, so why would we want to bring it here?” asked resident Peggy Holt. “That’s what I don’t understand.”

“We are facing an unprecedented medical crisis here in this state,” Sleeper said. “We are planning for contingencies that we never thought we’d ever dream of planning for. One of those contingencies is taking special needs populations and allowing them to recover from COVID-19 in a safe and secure environment.”

Patients recovering at the facility would not be permitted to venture out into the community, Sleeper said, and would have no opportunity to expose Plainfield residents to the virus.

“These people are coming to this facility voluntarily. However, we recognize the need to restrict their movements beyond the facility,” he said. “The way this is intended to run, there will be no exposure to the community.”

To ensure community safety, the agency is “leveraging a variance of a quarantine law and an existing medical enforcement process” to restrict the patients’ movements, Sleeper said. 

On-campus security would be provided “24/7” by officers from the Lamoille County Sheriff’s Department, he explained, and patients who violate the rules “will be removed from the facility.”

Healthcare support for the patients would be provided entirely by telephone.

“The Plainfield Health Center has been leveraged to provide health care, but the intent is to have that done through Telehealth,” Sleeper explained. “So, the patient remains on campus, and the physician or the caretaker remains at the health center.”

Should a patient decide to leave the program, “they will be taken someplace else,” Sleeper said. Those who have recovered from the virus “will be returned to their original homes.”

“They will not be allowed to walk around the community of Plainfield,” he said.

According to the agency’s website, housing patients at Goddard is an emergency measure that will be taken only if other options prove untenable.

“We are only planning to use Goddard College should our other resources no longer support the population,” the document said, adding that the patient count at the facility will “at no point” exceed 100 individuals. 

Photo by Mara Brooks.
Sleeper added that the number of patients placed at Goddard might well be lower than the maximum permitted. 

“It could be 20, it could be 10, it could be zero,” he said. “But we would not be responsible if we were not planning for a worst-case scenario.”

While some citizens have expressed concern about the facility, Sleeper said others have extended support or even offered to pitch in and help.

“I’ve had a lot of positive community feedback from people asking, ‘Can we bring food? What can we do (to help)?’” he said. 

Plainfield resident Dawn Fancher said she has no problem with the state’s plan for Goddard or the time it took to provide details to the public.  

“I was fine with it,” Fancher said. “I understand that these things take time and everyone involved is extremely busy right now.”

Sleeper said he expects the Goddard lease to be completed “sometime next week,” but had no idea when the first patients would arrive at the facility. 

“I really don’t know, because right now there’s no need for it,” he said. 

Calling the situation “unprecedented,” Sleeper admitted that to some extent the state had been forced to “develop a plan as we go.” 

“We’re trying to provide safety and security to all Vermonters and be caring and compassionate to those who have been impacted by this virus, while also being very cautious of the community interest,” he said.

But for residents like Holt, AHF’s recent efforts to engage with locals about the facility may be a case of too little, too late. 

“I don’t see much point in people asking questions or voicing their concerns if it’s a done deal,” Holt said. “The community definitely should have been included in this decision.” 

For more information on the recovery facility at Goddard College, visit humanservices.vermont.gov/help-and-resources/covid-19-information