Closed Maine Racetrack Gets New Life as State's 1st Mass Vaccination Site

“As soon as I walked in, I thought, this is the perfect space,” said Dr. Dora Anne Mills, chief health improvement officer for MaineHealth

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A Maine horse track that closed last November is getting a temporary new life to fight the pandemic.

Last week, developer Crossroad Holdings and MaineHealth announced they would turn the grandstands at Scarborough Downs outside Portland into a mass vaccine site.

The holding company is in the process of building a mixed-use complex where the track sits but began working with MaineHealth, which operates Maine Medical Center in Portland, as the health care group began identifying places to stage high-volume vaccine clinics.

“As soon as I walked in, I thought, this is the perfect space,” said Dr. Dora Anne Mills, chief health improvement officer for MaineHealth.

Mills said the grandstands are huge, well-ventilated and offer 30,000 sq. feet of space to accommodate 100 staff.

“There are these different stages to the vaccine appointment that require different types of people interacting with you and everybody needs to be spaced apart,” she explained.

More than 4,000 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine bound for Maine healthcare providers has been deemed unusable after shipping containers reached the wrong temperature.

COVID-19 vaccination requires additional monitoring of patients for reactions to doses of shots.

MaineHealth plans to have space for that, patient check-in, vaccine administration and IT infrastructure for data entry along with a one-way circuit for people to enter and exit the facility.

Other ideal aspects of using the building include ground-level parking and the track’s location off I-95 between two of Maine’s major population centers in Cumberland County and York County.

Preparing the grandstands for vaccination will require considerable effort. Forty construction workers have pivoted away from other work for Crossroad Holdings, with the goal of having the building ready for patients in roughly a week.

“It’s a heavy lift but we’ve got great support partners,” said Peter Michaud, a managing partner at the company, who called offering MaineHealth use of the stands a way of “saying thank you.”

COVID-19 infections and deaths continue to grow in many parts of the country while vaccine distribution continues to lag.

“Anything we can do to help the state of Maine get back up on its feel, we want to be able to do that,” he added.

Michaud said Crossroad Holdings plans to allow MaineHealth to use the facility as long as it’s necessary to help get vaccination rates up.

MaineHealth believes it may be able to administer up to 1,500 COVID-19 vaccine doses daily at Scarborough Downs, if the supply of vaccine allows that.

The facility also requires approval for mass gatherings from Scarborough’s town council.

A vote, which town officials believe will be in support of granting that permission, was scheduled for Tuesday.

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