Governor Mills Announces Additional Maine National Guard Deployment to Support Hospitals In Responding to COVID-19 Surge

FEMA also approves Mills Administration’s request for two Federal COVID-19 Surge Response Teams for MaineHealth and Central Maine Medical Center

Governor Janet Mills announced today that she will activate up to an additional 169 members of the Maine National Guard to help alleviate short-term capacity constraints at hospitals and maintain access to inpatient health care for Maine people amid record-high COVID-19 hospitalizations.

The Governor today directed the activation of these additional Guard members to serve in non-clinical support roles at health care facilities across the state. The Guard members will help hospitals maintain capacity by freeing up clinical staff to focus on patient care. Their assistance will also open additional beds at nursing facilities, in swing bed units, and at other “decompression sites” that accept patients discharged from hospitals. This, in turn, 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. The National Guard members will deploy next week and remain in service through the end of February 2022. The Mills Administration will release the deployment locations, which are being finalized and are subject to change, later this week.

“I wish we did not have to take this step, but the rise in hospitalizations – caused primarily by those who are not vaccinated – is stretching the capacity of our health care system thin, jeopardizing care for Maine people, and putting increased strain on our already exhausted health care workers,” said Governor Janet Mills. “The National Guard have been an invaluable asset during this public health emergency, and with this new order, we are hopeful that our hospitals will be able to open more beds to provide for surge care. Of course, the most fundamental way to help our hospitals maintain capacity and give our health care workers a much-needed break is to follow their advice and get vaccinated. It may save your life or someone else’s.”

“The decisive action taken by Governor Mills in November and December helped maintain critical care capacity in Maine’s hospitals and health system through holidays overshadowed by COVID-19,” said Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew and Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav D. Shah. “Now, to match the surge in cases from Omicron in Maine, a surge in support is needed to care for people severely ill with COVID-19, as well as those needing hospital care for other reasons. We share our health professionals’ deep appreciation for our National Guard neighbors called into service and the clinicians coming from across the country to provide care and relief in Maine.”

"We’re encouraged by the feedback we’ve had so far from our neighbors in the healthcare field and are privileged to be able to continue to build on our support now,” said Major General Douglas Farnham, Maine’s Adjutant General. “Additionally – and it can’t be overstated – we are indebted to all our families and employers. Our business model doesn’t work without their support and understanding. We are grateful for those sacrifices as Maine continues to pull together in the fight against COVID-19.”

“The Governor’s activation of additional National Guard members is welcome news to our beleaguered hospitals,” said Steven Michaud, President of the Maine Hospital Association. “We are in the midst of the most difficult time of the entire pandemic for hospitals. We are stretched to our bed capacity limits, all the while more and more of our employees are out due to COVID exposures. The stress on our caregivers can’t be overstated. The additional help from the Guard couldn’t come at a better time.”

Governor Mills also announced today that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has approved her request for Federal COVID-19 Surge Response Teams for MaineHealth in Portland and Central Maine Medical Center (CMMC) in Lewiston. These two teams, consisting of a total of 7 Federally-contracted nurses and pharmacists, began arriving yesterday and are scheduled to stay through January 27, 2022. Three clinicians will go to MaineHealth while four will go to CMMC, where they will administer COVID-19 vaccines, freeing up Maine clinicians to provide patient care.

“FEMA is pleased to be able to assist the State of Maine through the deployment of these Surge Response Teams,” said FEMA Region I Acting Regional Administrator Paul Ford.“Providing resources for our partners on the front lines of the pandemic fight is critical to their success, and our success as a nation.”

“MaineHealth is incredibly grateful to the state and federal governments for recognizing our need for more vaccinators as we try to meet demand for first doses and boosters in a way that is as convenient for our community members as possible,” said Katie Fullam Harris, MaineHealth Chief Government Affairs Officer. “We are also thrilled to hear the National Guard will be helping to relieve some of the pressure on our care teams, who have been working tirelessly at a time of unprecedented demand for our services.”

“The record number of COVID-19 hospitalizations we’re seeing in Maine underscores the importance of vaccination to ending the pandemic,” said Steven G. Littleson, President and CEO of Central Maine Healthcare. “Omicron is spreading rapidly and these clinicians will be doing important work to protect our communities when our health system is seeing significant demand for vaccine. We deeply appreciate Governor Mills and Commissioner Lambrew for providing these staffing resources, in addition to those they have already provided, as our team members continue their heroic fight against the virus.”

Maine, like much of the nation, is experiencing record hospitalizations during a sustained surge of COVID-19 increasingly driven by the Omicron variant. Today, there are a near-record high 395 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maine, including 105 in critical care and 60 on ventilators. There are currently 62 available intensive care unit (ICU) beds in Maine. The majority of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maine are not fully vaccinated.

The additional Guard members will join the more than 202 National Guard members already on orders supporting COVID-19 response efforts, including supporting hospital decompression, helping inventory and deliver personal protective equipment (PPE), testing supplies, and vaccines; staffing testing centers and vaccine clinics; supporting case investigation and laboratory testing; and serving in non-clinical roles at long-term care facilities.

The new Federal teams also complement the eight Federally supported ambulances and crews that are providing transportation of inpatients to available beds among facilities in Maine. They will continue service in Maine through January 26, 2022. The Federal government also provided Federal clinicians, including physicians, nurses, and paramedics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Disaster Medical System, to Maine Medical Center in December to provide care for those with COVID-19 and other serious medical issues.

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 147 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.

The Maine National Guard is a part time military force of nearly 3,000 men and women who serve their communities, state, and nation.