University of Vermont

Office of Undergraduate Research

Healthcare Policy Focus of Fourth Legislative Summit

Larner College of Medicine faculty Richard Wasserman (l), a professor in the Department of Pediatrics, and Ben Littenberg, Henry and Carleen Tufo Professor of Medicine and professor of nursing, address legislators in a workshop titled Health Services Delivery Research—A Primer at the fourth annual UVM Legislative Summit.

The University of Vermont hosted its fourth annual Legislative Summit on Wednesday, November 16, in the Davis Center. Forty-two legislators attended this year’s event, titled Healthcare: Issues and Opportunities for Policy Makers, to engage with faculty experts on a topic the legislature will grapple with in a variety of forms in the coming session.

The day was organized around three breakout sessions, each with two concurrent workshops, led by UVM faculty in partnership with top officials from the Vermont Agency of Human Services. Topics ranged from issues surrounding housing and homelessness to both the dangers and therapeutic promise of cannabis to ways of addressing the high cost of chronic care.

The six workshops represented a streamlining of last year's format, which had 25 separate sessions, said UVM legislative trustee Anne O’Brien, a member of the Vermont House representing Richmond and an organizer of the event.  

“We tapered down, so the workshops could be more targeted,” she said. “I think the response to the quality of the presentations has been spectacular.”

O’Brien, who is trained as a nurse and brings a “science-based” outlook to her legislative work, created the idea of the summit four years ago.

“When I first started in the legislature, I was interested in and sometimes wondered how we were making these policies and decisions,” she said. “And I thought, there must be some way we could do a little better at using research to inform the policymaking side.” When she was elected to the UVM board in 2013, she developed the concept of the summit as a “way I could add value as a trustee,” and approached UVM president Tom Sullivan and House speaker Shap Smith, “both of whom were really excited about the idea.” The first summit took place later that year.

This year’s summit is living up to its billing, she said.

“Checking in with people and chitchatting, I think there’s a high degree of value,” she said. “People are really grateful.”

UVM is only too happy to be contributing, said Sullivan. 

“As Vermont's flagship university, we should be and are reaching out to partner with the political leadership to help shape policy for the state,” he said. “We’ve got terrific colleagues in the legislature who understand the contributions the university makes. The collaboration is working very well, and we’re very happy to be part of it.”

The UVM faculty who participated were chosen, said Richard Galbraith, vice president for research at UVM, “because they have real expertise and real passion about the subjects they’re talking about.”

Faculty like nothing more than to share their knowledge in way that is impactful, Galbraith added.

One participating faculty member, David Rettew, an associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics in UVM’s Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine, who cautioned legislators to go slow with legalization during a cannabis presentation, is a case in point.

“I think it’s a wonderful development that people who are in a position to make policy decisions really learn about all the wonderful, and tedious, parts of science,” he said. “Science really should be behind science-based policies. Anything that’s going to enhance that collaboration is a great thing.”

A full list of the workshops and presenters follows. Presentations are available online; videos of the presentations will be available at the same site later in November. 

  • The Realities of Housing and Homelessness on the Healthcare System: Dr. Patricia Fischer, assistant professor, director of the Family Medicine Services at UVM Medical Center, Department of Family Medicine; Ken Schatz, commissioner of the Department for Children and Families.
  • Health Services Delivery Research – A Primer: Dr. Richard Wasserman, professor, Department of Pediatrics, Larner College of Medicine; and Dr. Ben Littenberg, Henry and Carleen Tufo Professor of Medicine and professor of Nursing, Larner College of Medicine.
  • High Cost of Chronic Care: What Can Policy Makers Do About It?: Eileen Girling, RN, MPH, CAMS, director, Vermont Chronic Care Initiative, Department of Vermont Health Access; Aaron French, MSN, RN, BC, Deputy Commissioner Health Services & Managed Care; and Thomas Simpatico, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Department of Vermont Health Access, professor of Psychiatry, director of Public Psychiatry, Larner College of Medicine. 
  • The Yin and The Yang of Cannabis: Dr. David Rettew, associate professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics; director, Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship; and director, Pediatric Psychiatry Clinic, Larner College of Medicine; and Dr. Gregory Holmes, chair, Department of Neurological Sciences, Larner College of Medicine. 
  • Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medical Research: Dr. Peter Spector, professor of Medicine, Cardiovascular Medicine, Larner College of Medicine; and Dr. David Warshaw, professor and chair, Molecular Physiology & Biophysics, Larner College of Medicine. 
  • The Future of Opiates – A Road Map for Appropriate Use: Dr. Charles MacLean, professor of Medicine, associate dean for Primary Care, director of the Office of Primary Care and AHEC Program, Larner College of Medicine. 

Past summits have covered climate change, economic development and education.