Maine Gov. Janet Mills on Wednesday activated the state’s National Guard to go to hospitals and help workers after her COVID-19 vaccine mandate caused hundreds of nurses and other healthcare employees to leave their jobs or get 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 are not vaccinated, according to state data.
At the same time, the bulk of inpatient beds were not being used for COVID-19 patients, according to data reported to the Department of Health and Human Services by state facilities.
Dr. Andrew Mueller, CEO of MaineHealth, said hospitalizations for COVID-19 in the healthcare system are the highest ever.
Mueller told reporters in a virtual briefing that 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.”
Hundreds of workers quit or were fired due to Mills’ COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which the Supreme Court declined to block, Maine hospital systems have told news outlets.
In addition to the workers lost, many workers either have COVID-19 or are being investigated for possible COVID-19, forcing them to miss work, healthcare executives said. They also described a national shortage of qualified workers.
“The challenge we’ve got is finding qualified healthcare 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.
Maine Gov. Janet Mills, left, is seen during a summit in New York City in 2019. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images)
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 who aren’t in hospitals out of 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 healthcare sites.
Mills’ 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 make 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 parent company of the center, said in a statement.