Governor Mills Announces Federal COVID-19 Ambulance Teams Coming to Eight Maine Hospitals

Hospitals to host ambulances and emergency medical crews that will match patients with open beds at facilities throughout Maine

Governor Janet Mills announced today that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has approved Maine’s request for Federal Ambulance Teams on behalf of eight Maine hospitals. The Federal teams will assist Maine emergency medical services (EMS) crews with non-emergency transportation of patients among facilities to match patients with open beds and ensure they are treated in the facility that best meets their health care needs.

The ambulance teams are among a slate of initiatives President Biden announced today to help states confront the COVID-19 Omicron variant. The Mills Administration is awaiting further details from the Federal government about the ambulance teams, including when they are estimated to arrive in Maine, along with details about the other initiatives announced by the President today to support hospitals and to increase access to COVID-19 testing and vaccination.

While the Delta variant continues to drive the current sustained surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Maine and the rest of New England, the more transmissible Omicron variant is now the dominant variant in new infections across the U.S., according to the U.S. CDC.

The following hospitals will host the Federal teams, which can be deployed to additional facilities throughout the state as needed:

  • Maine Medical Center, Portland
  • Southern Maine Health Care, Biddeford
  • Franklin Memorial Hospital, Farmington
  • Mid Coast Hospital, Brunswick
  • Central Maine Medical Center, Lewiston
  • MaineGeneral Medical Center, Augusta
  • Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center, Bangor
  • St. Joseph Hospital, Bangor

Teams not actively transporting patients among facilities at any given time may additionally support hospital emergency departments with the care of COVID-19 patients.

“Like our fellow New England states, Maine’s hospitals are being pushed to the brink during this sustained surge of COVID-19, driven primarily by people who are still not vaccinated,” said Governor Janet Mills. “I am grateful for this additional federal support and I am hopeful that, along with actions by my Administration, it will help alleviate the strain on our health care system. Maine people can do their part by stepping up to get vaccinated, regardless of whether it’s their first or third shot. It’s the right thing to do. It’s the only way to get through this surge without losing more lives.”

“These Federal ambulance teams will help us transport patients to ensure they receive the care that best meets their needs and increase our overall hospital capacity,” said Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew and Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav D. Shah. “We look forward to receiving further details from the Federal government about expanding access to COVID-19 testing and vaccination, which are critical to stemming this surge.”

“Our EMS crews continue to work tirelessly to transport patients throughout the healthcare system to ensure that they receive the highest quality care, from the most appropriate facility within our state. These federal resources will assist in relieving the mounting pressure on our first responders by offsetting some movement of patients between facilities when it exceeds our existing capacity. This is particularly important as we continue to see increases in the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients,” said J. Sam Hurley, Director of Maine Emergency Medical Services. “We are grateful for these resources as we continue to care for all Mainers.”

“Transportation for patients is a critical component of decompressing our overly stressed hospitals,” said Steven Michaud, president of the Maine Hospital Association. “A rare open bed does no good if we can’t get the patient to it in a timely manner. Increasing ambulance capacity is a big part of the solution to this crisis. We are grateful for the Governor’s request to FEMA and for the positive response from the Federal government.”

The majority of people hospitalized in Maine are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19. As of today, there are a record 387 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maine, including 125 in critical care and 62 on ventilators. There are currently 54 available intensive care unit (ICU) beds available in Maine.

The Mills Administration has additionally requested Federal monoclonal antibody clinical teams to support Maine hospitals. That request is pending. If approved, those teams would complement the non-clinical support of the National Guard, which Governor Mills activated on December 8, 2021.

Last week, 23 members of the National Guard deployed to serve six health care sites across Maine in helping clinical staff administer monoclonal antibodies. Administering monoclonal antibodies helps prevent individuals from becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 and keeps them out of critical care, preserving intensive care unit (ICU) capacity.

On Dec. 16, 2021, 17 National Guard members deployed to Saint Joseph’s Manor in Portland and 15 National Guard members deployed to CMMC to 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. This deployment will open an estimated 26 additional beds at Saint Joseph’s Manor and an estimated 16 “swing” beds at CMMC.

An additional nine members of the Guard will be deployed to Rumford Hospital in Rumford and Bridgton Hospital in Bridgton on December 27, 2021 to support monoclonal antibody treatments. Maine’s request for additional doses of monoclonal antibodies was approved on December 21 as well.

The National Guard 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, which also include nursing facility waivers to open up beds for hospital discharges, distributing federally supplied ventilators to hospitals, and a federal COVID-19 Surge Response Team at Maine Medical Center in Portland, are expected to make an estimated 152 beds available. This estimate includes both COVID and non-COVID beds and is subject to change depending on changing circumstance and need across the health care system. The Maine National Guard deployments are scheduled through January 26, 2022, subject to need.

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 Mills Administration is additionally working to expand the availability of both PCR and rapid COVID-19 testing alongside the Federal government. Right now, PCR testing volume in Maine is at a high level and the Department of Health and Human Services and the Maine CDC are working closely with testing kit manufacturers to increase supply in Maine. Maine currently ranks 12th best in the nation in terms of testing volume over the last 30 days.