Members of the Maine National Guard are to deploy to 10 health care facilities across the state this week to help relieve hospitals experiencing capacity challenges and to maintain access to inpatient health care for Maine people amid a sustained surge of COVID-19.
The Maine National Guard is a part time military force of approximately 3,000 men and women who serve their communities, state, and nation.
More than 100 National Guardsmen are already on orders supporting COVID-19 response efforts and have been used to inventory and deliver personal protective equipment (PPE), testing supplies, and vaccines; staff testing centers and vaccine clinics; support case investigation and laboratory testing; and serve in non-clinician roles at long-term care facilities.
The Mills Administration anticipates that these actions, coupled with the other steps it has taken in partnership with the Federal government and Maine’s health care systems, will provide an estimated total of 80 additional inpatient hospital beds to care for Maine people.
Governor Janet Mills activated up to 75 members of the Maine National Guard last week in response to record hospitalizations in Maine during a sustained surge of COVID-19 driven almost entirely by the Delta variant.
The majority of people hospitalized in Maine are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19. As of Dec. 13, there are 378 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maine, including 106 in critical care and 58 on ventilators. There are currently 63 available intensive care unit (ICU) beds available in Maine.
The National Guard will be used in non-clinical support roles to:
1) provide support to nursing facilities and swing bed units that accept patients discharged from hospitals experiencing critical care capacity challenges; and
2) help administer monoclonal antibodies to prevent serious illness from COVID-19 and keep Maine people out of critical care, preserving intensive care unit (ICU) capacity.
Following extensive discussions with Maine’s hospital systems, the Governor is deploying 38 National Guard members beginning December 16, 2021 as follows:
15 National Guard members to Saint Joseph’s Manor in Portland and 12 National Guard members to Central Maine Medical Center (CMMC) in Lewiston, which will open an estimated 26 additional beds at Saint Joseph’s Manor and an estimated 16 “swing” beds at CMMC.
This deployment will expand capacity at these “decompression sites” and allow hospitals to safety discharge more individuals, thereby relieving a bottleneck that will then allow hospitals to provide inpatient care for more people with COVID-19 and ensure delivery of health care for other serious health problems.
11 National Guard members among Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway, Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington, St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bangor, Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, Northern Light Mercy Hospital in Portland, and Northern Light Health in Waterville.
An additional two members of the Guard will be deployed to Rumford Hospital in Rumford and Bridgton Hospital in Bridgton on December 27, 2021. These Guard members will help clinical staff administer monoclonal antibodies to prevent serious illness from COVID-19 and keep Maine people out of critical care, preserving intensive care unit (ICU) capacity.
These deployments were developed in collaboration with Maine’s hospital systems with the goal of complementing existing staff and available resources to immediately open additional beds and address need. The full set of actions are expected to make an estimated 80 beds available, though this estimate is subject to change depending on changing circumstance and need across the health care system. The deployments are scheduled through January 26, 2022, subject to need.
Further, the Mills Administration today is submitting two new applications for Federal monoclonal antibody teams that include clinicians for Maine Medical Center in Portland and Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. These newly available clinical teams would complement the non-clinical support of the National Guard and have allowed the Administration to mobilize fewer National Guard than originally anticipated. However, the Mills Administration will continue to closely evaluate capacity in the coming weeks to determine whether additional National Guard deployments are necessary.
“Our members are ready to support Maine’s heroic health care workers and help the state through this challenging surge of COVID-19,” said Major General Douglas Farnham, Maine’s Adjutant General, in a news release. “We thank the Department of Health and Human Services for its partnership and look forward to working with them and others to expand Maine’s hospital capacity. The people of Maine can continue to count on the Maine National Guard.”
These actions complement the Administration’s requests last week for Federal COVID-19 Surge Response Teams to be sent to Maine to assist Maine Medical Center in Portland and CMMC in Lewiston. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved the Administration’s request for MMC, and a 15-member team of medical professionals from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Disaster Medical System arrived Saturday to provide direct patient care for the next two weeks in a new non-COVID, acute care unit, allowing MMC to provide 11 additional beds for adult patients. The Mills Administration continues to communicate with FEMA about its second request, on behalf of Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, which is pending.
The Mills Administration has also taken further steps to alleviate the strain on hospitals, including temporarily waiving staffing ratios at nursing facilities to allow them to accept more patients discharged from hospitals, freeing up 24 hospital beds since November 23, 2021.
To help begin to address behavioral health capacity constraints at hospitals in Westbrook and Bangor, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services is also accepting five psychiatric patients this week at Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta and Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor which is expected to free up 5 beds in strained hospitals.
The Mills Administration is also enlisting the Maine Responds Emergency Health Volunteer System that organizes health care, public health, and emergency response volunteers to respond to emergency situations.
To support recruitment and retention of health care workers, the Governor has provided $60 million in Medicaid temporary rate increases in 2020, $40 million in one-time payments to hospitals, nursing homes, and behavioral health providers in the summer of 2021, and $146 million from the biennial budget last month in one-time COVID-19 supplemental payments to hospitals and nursing facilities to support their staff and patient care.