Mills announces activation of Maine National Guard to address hospital capacity crisis due to COVID-19

Mills Administration also requests Federal COVID-19 Response Teams from Biden Administration to supplement hospital staff and Maine National Guard
Published: Dec. 8, 2021 at 2:05 PM EST
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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - As COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to reach record highs in Maine, Governor Janet Mills is calling in the Maine National Guard for help.

Mills signed a directive order Wednesday activating up to 75 additional members of the Maine National Guard to step in in non-clinical support roles to expand capacity at rapidly-filling Maine hospitals.

Her full statement is below.

Augusta, MAINE – Governor Janet Mills announced today that she has activated additional members of the Maine National Guard 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.

The Governor’s decision follows discussions with Maine’s hospital systems and comes as Maine and the rest of New England experience record hospitalizations during a sustained surge of COVID-19 driven almost entirely by the Delta variant. The vast majority of people hospitalized in Maine are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19. As of today, there are a record high 379 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maine, including 117 in critical care and 60 on ventilators. There are currently 42 available intensive care unit (ICU) beds available in Maine.

To address the increasing strain on hospitals and to maintain access to inpatient health care services, the Governor today signed a directive activating up to 75 additional members of the Maine National Guard who will be used in non-clinical support roles to expand capacity at health care facilities by:

1. providing support to nursing facilities and swing bed units that accept patients discharged from hospitals experiencing critical care capacity challenges. Enhancing the ability of these “decompression sites” to accept more patients will allow hospitals to safely discharge more individuals, 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.

2. helping administer monoclonal antibodies to prevent serious illness from COVID-19 and keep Maine people out of critical care, preserving intensive care unit (ICU) capacity. Under the Governor’s directive, members of the National Guard will deploy beginning next week to locations across Maine. These locations will be determined in the coming days in collaboration with the leadership of Maine’s health care systems. It is expected that members of the Guard will be deployed in these critical support staff roles through the end of January 2022, subject to need.

The Governor today also announced that her Administration has requested Federal COVID-19 Surge Response Teams on behalf of two Maine hospitals – Maine Medical Center in Portland and Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston – under the Biden Administration’s COVID-19 Winter Response Plan. If approved, teams of Federal clinicians, including physicians, nurses, and certified nursing assistants, will supplement existing staff and members of the Maine National Guard to provide care for those with COVID-19.

The Governor continued to urge Maine people to get vaccinated as the best and most effective way to protect their health and those around them and to take commonsense steps like wearing a mask when in indoor public places or crowded outdoor places.

“From the Ice Storm of ‘98 to the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the Maine National Guard have always stepped up to serve our communities and our state, adapting to meet whatever challenges are in front of them. Today, in the midst of this sustained surge and with the potential for even more people to become sick and hospitalized, we are once again in need of their help,” said Governor Janet Mills. “I am activating the Maine National Guard, and, in consultation with our health care systems, will be deploying them to expand our hospitals’ ability to treat people with COVID-19 and other serious medical conditions. I do not take this action lightly, but we must take steps to alleviate the strain on our health care system and ensure care for all those who need it. I am grateful to the members of the Guard and to our heroic health care workers for their tireless efforts. Just as they are stepping up, so, too, must Maine people. For your health, for the health of an elderly person, for the health of a child, for our health care workers, for the National Guard, get vaccinated, please. It may save your life or someone else’s.”

“Maine’s hospitals have borne the lion’s share of the impact of COVID-19, from treating COVID-19 patients to helping with testing and spearheading vaccination efforts – to say nothing of the secondary effects of the pandemic such as increased mental health challenges and problems from delayed health care,” said Jeanne Lambrew, Commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Nirav D. Shah, Director of the Maine CDC. “We are profoundly grateful for the Governor’s decisive action and our health care workers’ – and National Guard’s – heroic work.”

“The Maine National Guard is always ready to support our state and nation, both at home and overseas,” said Major General Douglas Farnham, Maine’s Adjutant General. “Our dual state and federal roles make us adaptable to a multitude of challenges, whether that’s supporting a wartime or security operation on foreign shores or assisting our neighbors in the healthcare field here at home. We’ve been involved since the early days of the pandemic and are privileged to be able to continue that support now. We are especially thankful to the families and employers of our National Guardsmen, whose support is so critical.”

“Hospitals in Maine are doing their best to treat patients and ensure access to care for all while combatting the COVID-19 positivity rate,” said Tim Dentry, President and CEO of Northern Light Health. “Hospitalizations continue to grow and tax our already stressed resources, so this is welcome news. The state has been very collaborative throughout the pandemic, and we expect to deploy National Guard members in support roles to help our staff meet direct patient care needs.”

“We are grateful to the Governor and the State of Maine for taking this step at a time when COVID-19 is spreading rapidly among the unvaccinated,” said Andrew Mueller, MD, Chief Executive Officer of MaineHealth. “National Guard assistance will be helpful, though we remain challenged by the current surge and urge everyone to get vaccinated or get a booster if eligible.”

The Mills Administration has also expanded support for hospitals to manage the increase of COVID-19 patients, including providing additional flexibility for acute-care hospitals to use Critical Access Hospitals to alleviate capacity constraints and enlisting the Maine Responds Emergency Health Volunteer System that organizes health care, public health, and emergency response volunteers to respond to emergency situations. These steps come in addition to the Governor providing $60 million in Medicaid temporary rate increases in 2020, $40 million in one-time payments to hospitals, nursing homes, and behavioral health providers in the summer of 2021, and $146 million from the biennial budget last month in one-time COVID-19 supplemental payments to hospitals and nursing facilities to support their staff and patient care.

The Maine National Guard is a part time military force of nearly 3,000 men and women who serve their communities, state, and nation. More than 100 National Guardsmen are already on orders supporting COVID-19 response efforts and have been utilized to inventory and deliver personal protective equipment (PPE), testing supplies, and vaccines; staff testing centers and vaccine clinics; support case investigation and laboratory testing; and serve in non-clinician roles at long-term care facilities.

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