Governor Janet Mills announced today that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has approved her request for Federal COVID-19 Surge Response Teams on behalf of Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center (EMMC) in Bangor.
Beginning February 18, two U.S. Department of Defense teams each consisting of 20 military medical personnel – including physicians, nurses, and respiratory technicians – will supplement existing staff at EMMC to provide care for those with COVID-19 and other serious medical issues. The teams will provide assistance through mid-March.
“While I am encouraged by the recent reduction in hospitalizations, the pandemic continues to cause serious illness requiring critical care that strains our health care workers,” said Governor Janet Mills. “This Surge Team will help provide important care to Maine people and relief for our health care workers, and I am grateful to the Federal government for its approval.”
“This virus is putting pressure on staffing and adding difficulty to the already challenging process of placing patients who are in need of behavioral health, skilled nursing, or other support after discharge,” said Rand O’Leary, MSA, FACHE, Senior Vice President, Northern Light Health and President, Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center. “These teams will work closely with our staff to provide clinical care where it is most needed. We are extremely grateful for the additional support and look forward to welcoming these teams in February.”
“FEMA is pleased we can help relieve some of the stress on Maine’s healthcare system with these personnel,” said FEMA Region I Regional AdministratorLori Ehrlich. “All of our healthcare workers have worked tirelessly since the beginning of the pandemic, and the best way to honor their sacrifice is by helping to ease their burden. For the public, that means vaccinations and masking to help reduce cases and hospitalizations.”
“The Department of Defense clinicians will help our own health professionals save the lives of Maine residents – not just those with COVID-19 but patients with heart disease, stroke, cancer, and other serious health problems who require the intense services that EMMC offers in northern and Downeast Maine,” said Jeanne Lambrew, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
As of today, there are 319 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maine, including 75 in critical care and 29 on ventilators, leaving 46 adult intensive care unit (ICU) beds available in Maine. The majority of people hospitalized in Maine are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
These Federal teams join members of the Maine National Guard deployed by Governor Mills in non-clinical roles to help alleviate short-term capacity constraints at hospitals and maintain access to inpatient health care for Maine people. The deployment of Guard members to hospitals is scheduled through February 25.
FEMA also approved Governor Mills’ request for Federal COVID-19 Surge Response Teams on behalf of Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston (CMMC) that will operate through March 2 and for a 30-day extension through February 25 of the Federal ambulance teams currently in Maine, as well as a request for a new ambulance team on behalf of Cary Medical Center in Caribou and other hospitals in Aroostook County.
The Mills Administration has expanded other 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. Waivers of state nursing facility staff ratios during the emergency have opened up 275 beds since November 2021.
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.