Mayor David Allaire said he is fed up with incidents at the Quality Inn.
Allaire took the business and the state to task Monday night before the Board of Aldermen after a fatal shooting there during the weekend — the second killing at the hotel in less than 6 months.
“The question is an ongoing series of issues, the state housing scores of individuals at the hotels,” Allaire told the board. “It’s been causing some issues that, in the beginning, were fairly minor. ... Unfortunately it has now escalated to the point of lives being lost.”
Allaire said he was reaching out the members of the city’s legislative delegation and varying levels of Gov. Phil Scott’s administration about changing the state’s policies regarding housing of homeless individuals and families in hotels in general and at the Quality Inn in particular.
“It’s out of hand,” Allaire said. “It’s just totally unacceptable. I could try to close the facility down ... but that’s not going to alleviate the concerns.”
In November, 35-year-old Jonathan Houghton, of Holyoke, Mass., was found dead of a gunshot wound in a room at the hotel. No arrests have been made in the killing and Police Chief Brian Kilcullen said Tuesday the investigation remained active.
“Unfortunately, some investigations can’t be closed out as quickly as we’d like them to be,” he said.
Allaire said after that incident, there were a number of assurances from the state about better supervision of the people being housed there.
“We haven’t seen that,” Allaire said — Kilcullen said a private security detail was hired for the hotel, but that it does not provide round-the-clock coverage. “It looks as though there is no clear plan to have any arrangement for these folks other than put them in the hotels and this hotel in particular. That’s unacceptable.”
In the second incident, police said a man told them he was “peer-pressured” into smoking crack cocaine while hanging out at the hotel, before allegedly shooting another man. Witnesses described the shooting as an accident, saying the shooter had been “showboating” with the gun.
The state and nonprofit organizations that deal with homelessness at the local level have been talking for some time about ending the use of hotels as temporary housing. Thomas Donahue, executive director of BROC Community Action, said that drive bumped into the sudden and urgent need of the pandemic.
“This was the COVID answer to keeping families housed during the pandemic and out of homelessness,” he said of the people placed at the Quality Inn. “It’s not the best answer, but it’s an answer.”
Donahue said the Dodge House, recently opened by the Rutland Housing Authority at the former John Deere property on Woodstock Avenue, added nine units and soon-to-be-complete renovations at the former Immaculate Heart of Mary school would add another 19, but a large need remained. He said he was serving on a task force organized by the Agency of Human Services that held its first meeting last week and is assigned to report to the Legislature on the issue in four weeks.
Also, Donahue cautioned against conflating multiple issues when discussing the incidents at Quality Inn.
“Brian Collamore (Rutland’s senior state senator) and I both ride Harley-Davidsons, but we’re not Hell’s Angels,” Donahue said. “You’ve got some illegal drug activity that created the situation Saturday and the one before that. That’s not being a homeless family. ... We’re talking about a lot of homeless families. Having them out in the cold and not being able to do their school work remotely — that’s not a solution.”
MONTPELIER — State officials have unveiled a road map that looks to bring the state back to as close to normal as possible by July 4.
At his regular news conference on Tuesday, Gov. Phil Scott said the plan, called “Vermont Forward,” will lay out the state’s guidance regarding the novel coronavirus pandemic for the next 3 months. He said unlike last year when efforts were made to reopen the economy, now there are three vaccines available for residents.
“Our goal with this plan is to give Vermonters a transparent look at how we’ll be able to work our way out of this pandemic. Moving forward together at a time when we can manage this virus like we do the flu, with simple, everyday measures rather than the State of Emergency we’ve been in for over a year,” Scott said.
He said the timeline will let organizations, employers and families plan for events and allow businesses to plan out operations and budgets while also giving residents something to work towards.
The timeline is contingent on the state’s vaccination progress and the dates are subject to change.
“In order for this plan to work, we need your help in getting everyone vaccinated,” the governor said.
The first step starts April 9. Scott said on that date outdoor businesses, retail establishments, businesses with low or no contact with the public and lodging, campgrounds and other accommodations will move to a universal guidance from the state.
Lindsay Kurrle, secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, said the guidance moves away sector-specific mitigation measures and instead asks businesses to follow five rules: stay home if sick, wear a mask, ensure 6-foot spaces and uncrowded places, practice good hygiene and know the state’s traveling restrictions.
According to the state’s vaccine dashboard, more than 42% of the state’s eligible population has received at least one dose of the vaccine. If that number hits 60% by May 1, the next step would see most other businesses move to the general guidance.
The road map changes the state’s travel restrictions as well. Starting April 9, no quarantine is required when traveling or returning to Vermont, regardless of vaccination status, as long as someone has a negative test within three days of arrival in the state. The 14-day quarantine requirement for vaccinated residents was lifted in February.
If 70% of all eligible residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine by June 1, the testing requirement will be dropped.
For gatherings, if benchmarks are hit by May 1, outdoor events can have up to 300 unvaccinated people in attendance and any number of those who are vaccinated. That number moves up to 900 unvaccinated in attendance if vaccination numbers are reached by June 1.
Indoors, one unvaccinated person is allowed per 100 square feet, up to 150 unvaccinated people, plus any vaccinated. The spacing requirement shrinks to one unvaccinated person per 50 square feet, up to 300 total unvaccinated and any vaccinated people, if vaccination goals are reached by June 1.
The governor said this all leads to July 4, a date he and President Joe Biden have tapped as the day they want to get back to as normal as possible.
“At which time, all Vermonters over the age of 16 will have had plenty of time to register and receive their vaccine, and we may even be vaccinating people under 16 by then. That’s why we believe we can expect to be largely back to normal by this time. After the Fourth, our guidance will become exactly that. Guidance, not mandates. Recommendations rather than requirements,” Scott said.
According to the plan, after July 4 there would no longer be any capacity restrictions on gatherings and events and business guidance, masking and physical distancing would still be encouraged, but not required.
Rutland Regional Medical Center has made some changes to its visitor policy based on new direction from the Vermont Department of Health and the effectiveness of the COVID vaccines, according to Dr. Rick Hildebrant, the hospital’s chief medical information officer and director of hospital medicine.
“Up until this point, our restrictions have been, really, the only people that would be permitted into the hospital are obviously patients or anyone who would be required to provide care,” he said.
As an example, Hildebrant said some patients might need a complex dressing after a procedure and the person applying that dressing would be an “essential support person.”
But starting on Monday, the hospital staff began admitting people who were there just to visit or providing emotional support in the hospital or at appointments in outpatient clinics.
Each patient may have one designated visitor, but that person must be fully vaccinated, which would describe them, according to a news release from Rutland Regional, as someone who has received their final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at least two weeks before visiting someone at the hospital.
Visitors must show proof of vaccination with a vaccination card or equivalent.
Fully vaccinated visitors will be allowed at all doctor clinics and outpatient appointments.
All visitors will continue to be screened when entering the hospital and will still be required to wear a mask.
One vaccinated person, if she or he is designated an essential support person may accompany or visit a patient who is a pediatric patient, a patient giving birth, a patient in the emergency department, a patient nearing end of life or patients requiring support as part of their care.
Fully vaccinated members of the clergy may visit without restrictions.
The change, which comes after visitor restrictions that were enacted in November, are expected to be welcomed by many patients.
“Probably the No. 1 request that I’ve had to deal with on the in-patient side for the last year is around visitors because typically, when a loved one goes to the hospital for a medical problem, they have a number of visitors because they have people who care about them and they want to show their support. We haven’t been allowed to do that. We haven’t been able to do that because of safety concerns,” Hildebrant said.
He added the medical staff wanted to get back to allowing visitors because it’s good for the patients to connect with their support system and provides another source of information for the health care providers about their patients.
Also, Central Vermont Medical Center recently announced similar changes to its visitor policy, which took affect on April 2.
“Patient family members are such an important part of the care team,” said Lisa Bovat, Central Vermont Medical Center patient experience manager, in a statement. “We’re thrilled that vaccination is allowing them to reengage in the care and healing process.”
The Vermont hospitals in the UVM Health Network have slightly different policies so area residents are encouraged to visit the Central Vermont Medical Center website before coming.
In a statement, Betsy Hassan, chief nursing officer at Rutland Regional, said the “No. 1 priority” has been the safety of patients and staff.
“Though we are happy to lift some restrictions, we will continue to monitor the virus and our vaccination numbers in our community and we will continue to make adjustments as soon as we can safely do so,” Hassan said.
Hildebrant said RRMC was responding to the changes made through Gov. Phil Scott’s executive orders. He said the reason visitation policies were opening up was that there is so much evidence COVID vaccines are very effective.
“When someone gets the vaccine, the chance of them getting an infection with COVID is so exceedingly small, it’s less than — less than — half a percent,” he said.
Hildebrant said the possibility that a person might need to be safe to visit a relative or friend is just one more reason to get vaccinated.
He acknowledged there had been a “little uptick” recently in COVID cases in the Rutland area that he attributed partially to “COVID fatigue” which can lead to less stringent mask-wearing or social distancing, but added that more than 45% of the population in Rutland County has already gotten at least one dose of the vaccine.
Rutland Regional will continue to facilitate patient communication with friends and family through video conferencing and other means according to a prepared statement released by the hospital.
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