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Gov. Mills activates Maine National Guard to address capacity concerns in healthcare system

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Gov. Janet Mills appeared at a December 8 press conference held by the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to unveil new measures intended to help the state’s hospital capacity handle the recent surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. 

Mills announced she has signed a directive activating up to 75 members of the Maine National Guard to address short-term staffing issues currently being faced by hospitals across the state.

The announcement was made the same day Maine recorded 1,275 cases of COVID-19 and 379 people were hospitalized, both record highs for the pandemic.

Mills said Maine’s health care system is at “a tipping point” and, as a result, is deploying National Guard members to serve in nonclinical support roles to ”expand capacity at health care facilities.”

On top of COVID-19, hospital capacity is currently burdened by the lack of beds in outpatient facilities, like nursing homes, that cannot accept patients. Mills explained that the National Guard members will help outpatient sites to accept patients, allowing them to be discharged from the hospital, and “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.”

Mills also announced that National Guard members will be used to 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.”

National Guard members will be deployed through the end of January 2022.

Mills further announced that, on behalf of Maine Medical Center (MMC) in Portland and Central Maine Medical Center (CMMC) in Lewiston, her administration has requested the aid of federal COVID-19 Surge Response Teams. The teams are part of the winter response plan recently announced by President Joe Biden.

Under the plan, hospitals can request with state support the help of federal teams of medical personnel, such as physicians, nurses, and certified nursing assistants. If the requests are approved by the federal government, those teams will be deployed to MMC and CMMC to help supplement hospital staff and the National Guard in providing care for COVID-19 patients.

Speaking at the press conference, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah also stated he expects the number of cases Maine is currently recording to stay at current levels and possibly increase.

Shah said the “unprecedented number of positive test results” the state is currently receiving affects his agency’s ability to process them on a daily basis. As a result, Shah said the CDC is redeploying staff, hiring, and training new staff.

“We’re past the point where the change in the number of cases from one day to the next is the principal indicator of the state of the pandemic,” Shah said.

When asked if the administration was considering emergency rules to relax medical licensing or expedite the certificate of need process as Governor Mills did earlier in the pandemic under the state of emergency, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services said the office does not oversee medical licensing and that the public health emergency declared by the department allows the commissioner to issue emergency certificates of need, but “certificates for permanent changes would still need to go through the full process.”

About Katherine Revello

Katherine Revello is a reporter for The Maine Wire. She has degrees in journalism and political science from the University of Maine. Her writing has appeared in Reason, The Washington Examiner, and various other publications. Got news tips? Contact Katherine at krevello@mainepolicy.org.

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