Central Maine Medical Center, a hospital in Maine's second largest city, Lewiston, has announced major service reductions related to staffing shortages.
Tuesday afternoon, its parent organization, Central Maine Healthcare (CMHC), said in a written statement that "acute nursing staffing shortages in key areas require Central Maine Medical Center to temporarily suspend admissions of pediatric and trauma patients at this time. The highest priority of CMMC is providing safe care for our communities. In order to meet that commitment, CMMC is curtailing these services in response to unprecedented healthcare workforce shortages."
The health care group added that "this temporary suspension of trauma inpatient admissions will be re-evaluated at least every 24 hours. The temporary suspension of pediatric inpatient admissions will remain in effect until further notice."
In the same announcement, CMCH said it "will close its neonatal intensive care unit, changing its status from a Level 2 nursery for babies under 35 weeks of gestation to a Level 1 nursery for babies above 35 weeks of gestation. This action is being taken due to resignations of key staff that exacerbated an already fragile healthcare workforce."
For some city and towns served by CMMC, the announcement is already having a direct impact.
"We're trying to do everything we possibly can," said Jason Levesque, mayor of Auburn, when asked about the city's response to the service suspensions.
That includes "increasing our budget, increasing our staff where we can, making touch decisions on triaging, what we respond to, when and how we respond to it," Levesque said, along with "adding another shift of paramedics onto our full 24/7 shifts so we can better anticipate longer hold or transport times."
Levesque, a Republican, is one of the leaders calling on Maine Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, to allow a test-out option to the recent Maine mandate that requires all health care workers in the state be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment.
As many as 250 CMMC employees had no record of vaccination on file, according to a recent article in the Bangor Daily News.
"It needs to be resolved yesterday," Levesque said of the shortage, adding that "whether it be weekly testing, bi-weekly testing" or another option, "there needs to be a way out."
"I hope that we could find some bipartisan support in finding a solution to this problem," said Maine state Sen. Jeff Timberlake, the senate's Republican leader, in an interview with NBC affiliate NEWS CENTER Maine.
In a statement about the CMMC staff shortage's impact, a spokesperson for Maine's Department of Health and Human Services said the Mills administration has spoken to Central Maine Healthcare repeatedly and "expressed its willingness to assist CMHC and other hospital systems confronting COVID-19 related challenges including testing supplies, PPE and staffing problems."
The statement goes on to say that Maine DHHS met with CMHC last week, that multiple Maine hospitals and hospitals groups saw worker vaccinations go up after the state mandate was announced and that $146 million is being allocated to health care organizations across Maine for workforce needs.
In response to calls to provide a regular testing option for Maine healthcare workers, the Mills administration issued the following statement to media on Tuesday evening:
Republicans in Maine have done little to advance the state's response to COVID-19. Throughout this pandemic, they have opposed nearly every public health measure proven to limit the spread of this dangerous and deadly virus. Now - as Maine people continue to get sick and die - Republicans want to weaken a requirement that health care workers protect people in their care by getting vaccinated against COVID-19, the same way they have to get vaccinated against other infectious diseases.
Health care workers must take every precaution to protect themselves and those they serve. Regular testing is not nearly as effective at protecting peoples' health as vaccination, which is why it is not a part of our policy and it is not a part of the forthcoming Federal policy requiring all health care workers to be vaccinated. It is also not supported by the Maine Hospital Association, MaineHealth, Northern Light Health, and MaineGeneral Health. If Republicans don't want to listen to me, then they should listen to them.
To say that Maine people will die as a result of expanded vaccination is repugnant, dishonest, and an insult to every Maine person who has lost their life to COVID-19, especially those who contracted the virus from a health care worker who was supposed to protect them but chose not to get vaccinated. It is, in fact, this policy, that will keep both health care workers and their patients alive.
Now make no mistake: we will do everything within our power - and everything to protect public health - to ensure access to health services for Maine people if Central Maine Medical Center (CMMC) employees refuse to be vaccinated and leave their jobs. We will do everything within our power to address the serious workforce shortage that our state is confronting - a problem that Republicans failed to address over the last decade. In the meantime, I have directed the Department of Health and Human Services to continue working with CMMC, as well as surrounding hospitals, to support critical health services for residents of Central Maine. This is what we have done since taking office to address the hospital's longstanding workforce and compliance-related issues.