Governor Mills Announces Deployment of National Guard Members to Ten Health Care Facilities Across Maine

Administration’s plan to expand hospital capacity is expected to open an estimated 80 additional inpatient hospitals beds to care for Maine people

Governor Janet Mills announced today that members of the Maine National Guard will deploy to ten health care facilities across the state this week to help relieve hospitals experiencing capacity challenges and to maintain access to inpatient health care for Maine people amid a sustained surge of COVID-19. The Mills Administration anticipates that these actions, coupled with the other steps it has taken in partnership with the Federal government and Maine’s health care systems, will provide an estimated total of 80 additional inpatient hospital beds to care for Maine people.

Governor Mills activated up to 75 members of the Maine National Guard last week in response to record hospitalizations in Maine during a sustained surge of COVID-19 driven almost entirely by the Delta variant. The majority of people hospitalized in Maine are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19. As of today, there are 378 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maine, including 106 in critical care and 58 on ventilators. There are currently 63 available intensive care unit (ICU) beds available in Maine.

The National Guard will be used in non-clinical support roles to: 1) provide support to nursing facilities and swing bed units that accept patients discharged from hospitals experiencing critical care capacity challenges; and 2) help administer monoclonal antibodies to prevent serious illness from COVID-19 and keep Maine people out of critical care, preserving intensive care unit (ICU) capacity.

Following extensive discussions with Maine’s hospital systems, the Governor is deploying 38 National Guard members beginning December 16, 2021 as follows:

  1. 15 National Guard members to Saint Joseph’s Manor in Portland and 12 National Guard members to Central Maine Medical Center (CMMC) in Lewiston, which will open an estimated 26 additional beds at Saint Joseph’s Manor and an estimated 16 “swing” beds at CMMC. This deployment will expand capacity at these “decompression sites” and allow hospitals to safety discharge more individuals, thereby 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. 11 National Guard members among Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway, Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington, St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bangor, Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, Northern Light Mercy Hospital in Portland, and Northern Light Health in Waterville. An additional two members of the Guard will be deployed to Rumford Hospital in Rumford and Bridgton Hospital in Bridgton on December 27, 2021. These Guard members will help clinical staff administer monoclonal antibodies to prevent serious illness from COVID-19 and keep Maine people out of critical care, preserving intensive care unit (ICU) capacity.

These deployments were developed in collaboration with Maine’s hospital systems with the goal of complementing existing staff and available resources to immediately open additional beds and address need. The full set of actions are expected to make an estimated 80 beds available, though this estimate is subject to change depending on changing circumstance and need across the health care system. The deployments are scheduled through January 26, 2022, subject to need.

Further, the Mills Administration today is submitting two new applications for Federal monoclonal antibody teams that include clinicians for Maine Medical Center in Portland and Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. These newly available clinical teams would complement the non-clinical support of the National Guard and have allowed the Administration to mobilize fewer National Guard than originally anticipated. However, the Mills Administration will continue to closely evaluate capacity in the coming weeks to determine whether additional National Guard deployments are necessary.

“In consultation with our health care systems, I am deploying members of the Maine National Guard across Maine to expand our ability to treat people with COVID-19 and to provide care for Maine people grappling with other serious medical conditions,” said Governor Janet Mills. “We will continue to work closely with our health care and Federal partners to monitor the capacity of our system and to take action when and where it is needed in order to support Maine people. Ultimately, the best and most effective way to relieve the burden on our heroic health care workers is to heed their advice: get vaccinated.”

“Maine’s hospitals and nursing facilities continue to bear the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic as the Delta variant drives serious illness and death among the unvaccinated in Maine and throughout New England,” said Jeanne Lambrew, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. “The assistance of the Maine National Guard, along with Federal partners, will help to relieve some of the strain on our valued health care workers in critical care settings, but getting vaccinated is still the most important thing Maine people can do to protect each other, their loved ones, and our health care system.”

“Our members are ready to support Maine’s heroic health care workers and help the state through this challenging surge of COVID-19,” said Major General Douglas Farnham, Maine’s Adjutant General. “We thank the Department of Health and Human Services for its partnership and look forward to working with them and others to expand Maine’s hospital capacity. The people of Maine can continue to count on the Maine National Guard.”

“As Maine continues to battle a surge of COVID-19, our hospitals are doing their best to care for patients and ensure access to vital health care for Maine people,” said Tim Dentry, President and CEO of Northern Light Health. “We thank Governor Mills and her administration for providing these additional resources, which will help to keep patients out of critical care and provide support for our already stressed staff during this difficult period of the pandemic. We look forward to continuing to collaborate with the administration to get more Mainers vaccinated, which is the most important step people can take.”

“In recent weeks, we have been working closely with Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lambrew and her team to assess our needs and plan for the best use of available resources to augment our dedicated but exhausted team members,” said Steven G. Littleson, President and CEO of Central Maine Healthcare. “We are looking forward to the addition of National Guard personnel at CMMC this week. They will provide much needed support, which will enable us to open additional beds for patients who need rehabilitation and nursing care before they can be discharged. We are deeply grateful to Governor Mills and Commissioner Lambrew for activating the Maine National Guard and developing a plan to use these precious resources in the most effective way possible as we all continue our heroic battle against the pandemic.”

These actions complement the Administration’s requests last week for Federal COVID-19 Surge Response Teams to be sent to Maine to assist Maine Medical Center in Portland and CMMC in Lewiston. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved the Administration’s request for MMC, and a 15-member team of medical professionals from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Disaster Medical System arrived Saturday to provide direct patient care for the next two weeks in a new non-COVID, acute care unit, allowing MMC to provide 11 additional beds for adult patients. The Mills Administration continues to communicate with FEMA about its second request, on behalf of Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, which is pending.

The Mills Administration has also taken further steps to alleviate the strain on hospitals, including temporarily waiving staffing ratios at nursing facilities to allow them to accept more patients discharged from hospitals, freeing up 24 hospital beds since November 23, 2021. To help begin to address behavioral health capacity constraints at hospitals in Westbrook and Bangor, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services is also accepting five psychiatric patients this week at Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta and Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor which is expected to free up 5 beds in strained hospitals.

The Mills Administration is also enlisting the Maine Responds Emergency Health Volunteer System that organizes health care, public health, and emergency response volunteers to respond to emergency situations.

To support recruitment and retention of health care workers, the Governor has provided $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.