DHHS Advances Health Care Workforce Development Strategy

April 7, 2023

At the direction of Governor Janet Mills, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has developed and executed a variety of programs to address the shortage of qualified health care workers in Maine. These initiatives were developed in collaboration with health system leaders to grow the talent pipeline and develop new workforce models to advance health equity and health care access in rural and other under-served populations. This work is centered around three key areas of focus: Recruitment, training and career ladders, and growing the provider pipeline.  

Many of the health care workforce initiatives are part of the Mills Administration’s Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan (MJRP) launched by Governor Mills to address Maine’s workforce challenges, which were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The MJRP dedicated more than $300 million for workforce programs, including $20 million to directly strengthen Maine’s vital health care workforce and improve health care for Maine people. These funds were leveraged using Federal sources such as Federal Medicaid matching funds, including one-time Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) funds, and a grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To implement these programs, DHHS works closely with providers, the Maine Department of Labor (DOL), the Maine Department of Education (DOE), the Maine Community College System (MCCS), and the University of Maine System (UMS) to grow, recruit, and retain the health care workforce in Maine.

The following workforce initiatives support a wide range of health care settings, specialties, and provider types, all of which play essential roles in Maine’s health care infrastructure, including hospitals and health systems, primary and specialty care, skilled nursing, long-term care, home-and community-based services (HCBS), adult and children’s behavioral health, emergency medical services (EMS), and dental providers. 


Health Care Workforce Recruitment

Healthcare Workforce Attraction Campaign ($2.5M): DHHS led this public-private partnership that leverages additional provider funding in collaboration with the Maine Hospital Association, the Maine Healthcare Association, and the Maine Primary Care Association. The initial phase of the campaign focused on engaging young people in Maine to explore careers in the health care sector through development of a health care job board and multimedia outreach campaign that resulted in over 260,000 job views for positions in the health care sector and more than 5,000 applications to health care jobs. The second phase will broaden the candidate reach nationwide, and highlight training opportunities, health care apprenticeships and resources for tuition support.

Direct Care Worker Campaign ($3.5M): This statewide multimedia campaign promotes direct care and behavioral health career opportunities. The initial phase of the campaign Caring for ME rolled out in 2021 as a partnership with the Maine DOL. The current and future phases of the Direct Care Worker campaign are largely funded by FMAP dollars and will promote and elevate careers in Home and Community Based Settings. To date the Caring for ME campaign has attracted 40,000 visitors to the campaign landing page, and of those visitors 3,000 explored job postings on DOL’s Maine Job Link that were highlighted on the website. Another hallmark of the Caring for Me campaign is the option to connect with a DOL health care career navigator to assist prospective candidates in exploring health care career pathways; over 300 individuals have submitted requests to speak with a navigator.

HCBS Direct Support Recruitment and Retention Bonuses ($120M): In 2022, DHHS distributed funding to provide retention bonuses for current direct support workers and sign-on bonuses for new hires. Over $120 million in payments, funded by Federal Medicaid matching funds through Maine’s HCBS system improvement plan, were made to HCBS provider agencies. Each agency had flexibility to determine the size and frequency of bonuses and was required to adopt an agency bonus policy and share it with their workers. Additional funds were dispersed to Home and Community Based Service providers to offset costs tied to payroll taxes and other expenses related to higher payrolls, including the payment of the bonuses.


Health Care Workforce Training & Career Ladders

Healthcare Training for ME Partnership ($8M administered by DOL, leverages other funding to MCCS): DHHS works closely with DOL, Adult Education (DOE), MCCS, and UMS to coordinate a centralized approach to health care career training opportunities and tuition funding. Healthcare Training for ME launched in April 2022 to connect current health care workers in front line patient-facing roles with funding for training to attain certifications and credentials they need to move up the career ladder, resulting in better retention rates and improved quality of care. This initiative is funded through a combination of tuition remission from the MJRP with additional funds provided by DHHS and the Harold Alfond Foundation. Through the Healthcare Training for ME partnership, more than 4,000 individuals are currently enrolled in or completed free or reduced cost training to begin or advance their health care careers.

Credential Alignment ($2.5M): DHHS launched the Worker Portability and Advancement initiative to create a base credential usable by individuals in at least two current roles: Personal Support Specialist (PSS) and Direct Support Professional (DSP), with consideration also being given to developing a base credential for Mental Health and Rehabilitation Technician (MHRT) I. The base credential will enable a direct care and support worker to work across multiple provider settings, and to pursue additional expertise to advance in the field. This project is supported by FMAP funds.  

Curriculum Redesign ($300K): Working in close collaboration with providers and training partners, DHHS is redesigning health care training curricula to standardize required certifications for front line positions such as DSP, MHRT, Behavioral Health Professional (BHP), and Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) with college credit bearing courses and “stackable credentials.”  Part of the curriculum redesign process is ensuring that curricula meet national best practice standards. This will allow front line staff to advance their careers and increase the pool of health care workers with degrees aligned with Maine health care needs and federal guidelines.  


Growing the Provider Pipeline

Rural Preceptorship & Graduate Medical Education Expansion ($2.25M): DHHS issued a Request for Applications, supported by a combined $1.6M in MJRP and $650,000 in U.S. CDC funding, to incentivize the expansion of Clinical Preceptorships and Graduate Medical Education for rural providers. This initiative will expand training for doctors, nurses, social workers, and other health professionals in rural communities; encourage aspiring health care workers to launch rewarding careers in Down East, northern, and western Maine; support the pipeline of medical providers in areas where they’re needed most; and strengthen Maine’s health care workforce for patients throughout the state.

Provider Loan Repayment and Scholarship Fund ($4M administered through FAME): The Maine Health Care Provider Loan Repayment Pilot Program provides one-time funds to support rebuilding Maine’s health care industry workforce. The program, funded through a combination of MJRP funds and funding allocated by the Legislature through the biennial budget, will attract and retain health care professionals in Maine by repaying outstanding student loans of selected participants who commit to living and working in Maine for at least three years. FAME will pay up to $25,000 per year or, in aggregate, the lesser of $75,000 or 50 percent of the recipient’s outstanding loan balance. FAME also administers the Doctors for Maine’s Future Scholarship as well as additional loan reimbursement programs for health care professionals through the Maine Nursing Education Loan Repayment Program and the Maine Dental Education Loan Repayment Program.