Health Care

Vermont Conversation: Rebecca Bell on kids, Covid and caregivers at ‘their breaking point’

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Rebecca Bell
Dr. Rebecca Bell, a pediatric critical care doctor at the University of Vermont’s Children’s Hospital, says “it’s too early to predict” how the Omicron variant of Covid-19 will change the course of the pandemic in children. File photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

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As the Omicron variant spreads with breathtaking speed, the number of people hospitalized in Vermont is hitting record highs. More than half of Vermont hospitals report staffing shortages. Dr. Rebecca Bell, a pediatric critical care doctor at the University of Vermont’s Children’s Hospital and president of the Vermont chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, warned that health care providers around the state “feel this is their breaking point.”

Bell works in Vermont’s only pediatric ICU. Even while treating the sickest children, she encounters resistance to having children tested or treated for Covid-19. “Many, many families have chosen to never ever test their child (for Covid). I have many conversations with children admitted to the hospital that need a test and the families refuse a test.” When children are positive for Covid, some families “don’t believe the result.” Bell and her colleagues face “a lot of anger and tension around that.”

Bell is deeply concerned about what she is seeing with her young patients. “What young people tell me now, especially the adolescents, is that it’s been a really long two years. … Things have been very tenuous for young people this entire time. The lack of consistency is really hard for younger children.”

She says there is a mental health crisis among youth. “We have families that are really just tapped out in terms of trying to manage their child’s mental health and all of the other things that are happening in their lives.” Bell adds that the rates “for self-harm or for suicide attempts … were going up before the pandemic, and they’re continuing to go up now. It’s very concerning.”

Through the hardship, Bell takes consolation in “just seeing the way people have pulled together and supported each other in every setting, in every sector.” Ultimately, she says, “I keep talking about vaccines — what an amazing thing that happened over a short period of time. So that gave me great hope.”

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David Goodman

About David

David Goodman is an award-winning journalist and the author of a dozen books, including four New York Times bestsellers that he co-authored with his sister, Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman. His work has appeared in Mother Jones, New York Times, Outside, Boston Globe and other publications. He is the host of The Vermont Conversation, a VTDigger podcast featuring in-depth interviews about local and national topics. The Vermont Conversation is also an hour-long weekly radio program that can be heard on Wednesday at 1 p.m. on WDEV/Radio Vermont.

Email: [email protected]

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