Maine’s largest health care group is under fire from top state officials after giving COVID-19 vaccines to consultants from out of state.
On Sunday, The Portland Press Herald published a report saying that MaineHealth, which operates Maine Medical Center as well as a mass vaccine clinic in Scarborough, had been “flouting” Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention guidelines by vaccinating staff who have been working remotely along with out-of-state consultants.
On Monday, MaineHealth released a statement saying those consultants were “a small number of individuals from out of state who were brought into Maine Medical Center to provide support to nurses and managers in answering questions about the impact of joining a union.”
The health care group went on to say it had “erred in vaccinating those individuals.”
It also added to its Monday statements in a second message Tuesday that said, “at all times MaineHealth has and continues to vaccinate its care team members in accordance with U.S. CDC and Maine CDC guidelines, and news reports to the contrary are false.”
On Tuesday, Maine’s top political leaders began to weigh in on the issue of the out-of-state consultants receiving coronavirus vaccine shots.
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Maine Gov. Janet Mills called those vaccinations “inexcusable” and “an insult to the hardworking nurses trying to assert their rights and to those who are patiently waiting for their turn.”
Mills added that she was “glad” that MaineHealth “recognized their error and have committed to following our strategy, as is required of all vaccine providers in Maine.”
“We do have provider agreements with these organizations, it is a condition of our provider agreements to follow these guidelines,” said Jeanne Lambrew, the commissioner of Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services, during a media briefing Tuesday as she explained how the state interacts with providers administering the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We do have a commitment from MaineHealth and other organizations that had been doing a group that was not consistent that they would [follow the guidelines] going forward,” she added.
Democrats in the state’s legislature are just as upset, if not more than the governor.
In a Wednesday interview with NECN and NBC10 Boston, Maine Senate President Troy Jackson called MaineHealth’s decision to offer vaccines to the contractors “unconscionable” and damaging to the state’s effort assure the public that the effort to vaccinate Mainers is being carried out in a fair and equitable way.
“There’s something incredibly tone deaf about the fact that you’d have a high-priced firm from Florida come in to squash a union organizing effort and you give them vaccines meant for elderly people and all of us in the state,” said Jackson, referring to the Press Herald’s reporting.
Jackson said that he certainly appreciates MaineHealth’s work to get vaccines to Mainers up to this point but he thinks that “a flood of people are unbelievably upset” at the health care group.
“I’m certainly trying to be understanding of the great work they’ve done but they really, really messed up on this and there’s never a time it’s going to make sense for me,” he explained.
He added that he “sees this kind of [profanity] happen far too often and it’s just one more time people made very, very bad decisions to keep workers in line.”
NECN and NBC10 Boston also reached out to Maine Senate Republicans for a comment on MaineHealth’s vaccine administration but did not receive an immediate response.
We also requested an on-camera interview with someone from MaineHealth about the issue but that request was declined. Officials from the organizations referred us to the written statements they issued on Monday and Tuesday.