Maine Gov. Janet Mills on Dec. 8 activated the state’s National Guard to assist at hospitals after her COVID-19 vaccine mandate caused hundreds of nurses and other health care employees to leave their jobs or be fired.
Mills, a Democrat, said the move was to “help alleviate short-term capacity constraints at hospitals and maintain access to inpatient health care services for Maine people amid a sustained surge of COVID-19.”
One of the most vaccinated states in the country, Maine has seen COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations increase in recent weeks. Out of 379 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Maine as of Dec. 8, 117 were in critical care and 60 were on ventilators.
Most aren’t vaccinated, according to state data.
At the same time, the bulk of inpatient beds wasn’t being used for COVID-19 patients, according to data reported to the U.S. government by hospitals.
Dr. Andrew Mueller, CEO of MaineHealth, told reporters in a virtual briefing that hospitalizations for COVID-19 in the health care system are at their highest level. A shortage of workers is affecting facilities, in addition to the rising number of COVID-19 cases and an “incredible demand for other, non-COVID services,” according to Mueller.
John Porter, a spokesman for the system, told The Epoch Times that approximately 400 workers quit or were fired due to Mills’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which the U.S. Supreme Court declined to block.
Porter said the mandate has helped the facility because it’s led to fewer workers missing time due to having COVID-19 and that the staffing issues primarily stem from nurses retiring and having difficulty filling open positions.
Attempts to make jobs more attractive by raising wages and providing more benefits have only been partially successful.
“The challenge we’ve got is finding qualified health care workers, because they don’t exist. Our nation’s lost over half a million health care workers who resigned, retired, left the field in the last several months. And so there’s a huge workforce crisis across our country,” Mueller said.
The National Guard personnel will provide support to facilities and units that get patients who are discharged from hospitals due to being overwhelmed. They’ll also help administer monoclonal antibodies, one of the best-known COVID-19 treatments, in a bid to keep COVID-19 patients from being admitted to hospitals.
“I’m deploying these National Guard members across the state of Maine to expand our hospitals’ capacity to treat people with COVID-19 and other serious conditions,” Mills told a press conference.
The deployment will start next week and run through the end of January.
As many as 75 members will be sent to assist health care sites.
Mills’s administration also asked the federal government to send COVID-19 surge response teams to two Maine hospitals. The teams would help workers at Maine Medical Center in Portland and Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston.
Maine Medical Center closed six operating rooms this week to create more space for intensive care units.
Central Maine Medical Center has also seen an increase in patients, including COVID-19 patients.
“Any additional resources that can be provided, whether from the state or federal level, during this time when resources are stretched thin for Maine hospitals are greatly appreciated,” Steve Littleson, the president and CEO of Central Maine Healthcare, the facility’s parent company, said in a statement.