BENNINGTON – Trey Dobson’s life changed one night over a cold beer at the bar of the now closed Rattlesnake Cafe in Bennington.
Dobson, now a chief medical officer at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, had just completed his medical studies at the University of Tennessee and an emergency medicine scholarship at the University of Virginia (in my hometown of Charlottesville).
Passionate about hiking, trail running and mountaineering, Dobson – who received his master’s degree in geology from the University of Wyoming and had worked as a geologist in that state before moving into medicine – initially limited his research to employment in White or Green. Mountains and has just accepted a position in New Hampshire.
But with a 36-hour wait for his flight home to his pregnant wife in Virginia, Dobson stopped in Bennington to run the Appalachian Trail. Which brought him to the Rattlesnake bar, the beer and the bartender.
They spoke of their common love for trail running and the quality of the region for it, but also of SVMC. Dobson was persuaded to visit Bennington Hospital, and after a day with emergency room staff, surgical staff, nurses, cardiac teams and the like – a hospital which saw the value of a wide collaboration – it was sold.
âI was taken aback,â he recalls of the SVMC visit. âI called my wife and said, ‘I think I made a mistake.’ New Hampshire was gone. Bennington was sure, and SVMC agreed to find him a spot. His wife’s reaction? She said, ‘Whatever. “”
In the years that followed, Dobson helped the organization overcome some important challenges. These include SVMC’s affiliation with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and the flooding of the emergency room with patients suffering from acute mental health crises after Tropical Storm Irene forced the closure of the only hospital. psychiatric state. This challenge remains, he notes.
In addition, the opioid crisis has exploded in the region, state and nation.
âWe have decreased the availability of opioids in doctor’s offices. We have had some success there, âhe said.
But the overdose death rate continues to climb, and more dangerous drugs are entering the illegal market. These are cases that land in the emergency room, where Dobson’s team works closely with other community groups to treat these patients beyond simply meeting their immediate medical needs.
The local voice of medical science
But it is clear that the biggest challenge Dobson and SVMC have faced during his tenure is the COVID-19 pandemic, and he has become a trusted voice on the day-to-day situation in our region. In medical school, students used the Ebola virus to train for the pandemic, and some of the same principles still apply with COVID, he said.
Dobson said the state’s modeling for the COVID pandemic first released in March 2020 was disastrous.
âI always show it to groups of staff because it was so horrible,â he said. “This model did not work because of the attenuation” like vaccines and masking.
Yet, faced with an unknown virus, Dobson’s first priority was the safety of staff, he said, and managing anxiety levels for anyone facing this unknown.
âI had to help them understand what they can and cannot achieve,â Dobson said of the early days of COVID. âYou have to put on your PPE (protective gear) and it may take a minute. You have to take care of yourself and your family, âhe told hospital staff.
Some of those same concerns are resurfacing with the emergence of the new omicron variant and individual concerns about vaccinations for young children. But Dobson said if he was successful, the key to quality care – both pandemic and non-pandemic – would be to keep all processes simple and clear across all institutions. As an example, Dobson points out that the three COVID-19 vaccines all have different delivery times; they should all have a schedule.
Where does he see medicine and SVMC in particular heading in 10 years? The popular response, said Dobson, is to put more emphasis on prevention and a healthy lifestyle, by keeping people out of the hospital. But he doesn’t believe that will be reality, especially given Vermont’s aging population.
âWe’re going to need hospital care. Our population is aging more and more, âhe said.
And, you ask him, what keeps you from sleeping at night?
âPersonally, my own performance and my ability to help my colleagues achieve what they have set out for in health care,â replied Dobson. âI have a real sense of responsibility.