Governor Mills Announces New Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan Initiatives to Strengthen Maine’s Health Care Workforce In Face of COVID-19 Pandemic

Governor Janet Mills today unveiled a slate of initiatives from her Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan to encourage people to pursue health care jobs in Maine and strengthen the state’s health care workforce, including new programs that make it more affordable to become a health care professional and make it easier to advance in their careers once they do.

The Administration is pursuing tuition support programs for health care professionals. Backed by $4 million from the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan, the programs will provide financial support, through scholarships and student loan relief, for example, to allow more people to become doctors, nurses, behavioral health specialists, long term care professionals and others starting at the end of this year.

The Governor also announced a program to help people who work in the health care field gain skills and advance with their employer. Backed by $8.5 million from the Governor’s Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan, the new “tuition remission” program provides financial support to help employees attain advanced health care credentials. The ability to earn credentials while on the job will allow health care workers to advance in the profession, leading to better paying jobs for them and improved health care services for Maine people.

The Governor also announced that her Administration is launching a new $1.5 million recruitment effort, with $1 million dedicated to promoting the value of work in health care and encouraging young people to enter careers in health care, and the other $500,000 dedicated specifically to promoting direct care worker jobs, such as aides for older Mainers or individuals with disabilities. This effort will be supplemented by another $600,000 to launch Maine’s Health Care Career Navigators, who will be charged with helping people interested in health care jobs figure out the best career path for them.

These important initiatives, which the Administration plans to implement by the end of this year, come as Maine continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, which is exacerbating Maine’s longstanding workforce challenges in the health care sector. The health care sector has been one of the hardest hit during the pandemic, representing 12 percent of net job losses in Maine.

“The health care sector is one of Maine’s largest employers, putting thousands of Maine people to work in good-paying jobs protecting the health, welfare, and lives of Maine citizens. But for a long time now, health care facilities across the state have had to grapple with a shortage of workers and the pandemic has only made the problem worse,” said Governor Janet Mills. “Health care workers have been the backbone of our response to COVID-19. They’ve shown up on the frontlines for more than a year and half to save the lives of Maine people, all while enduring risks to their own health and the added pressure and stress of the job. Their work is meaningful beyond words and is crucial to the health of our people. Through these forthcoming initiatives, we want to make it easier and more affordable for people, especially young people, to pursue careers in health care and continue to move up the career ladder into higher-paying jobs because they provide tremendous opportunity to do life-saving work and make a good wage with good benefits. We look forward to launching these programs at the end of the year, which will help Maine people and strengthen our health care workforce in the long-run.”

“The work that health care professionals do is absolutely critical and has only become even more crucial during this public health emergency,” said Laura Fortman, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Labor. “The initiatives in the Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan make health care careers more obtainable and provide a career ladder to family sustaining wages.”

“Having a strong, high-quality health system is not only important to Maine residents, but it is essential to Maine’s economic recovery and the ability to attract new businesses and workers,” said Jeanne Lambrew, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. “The cornerstone of our health care system is the skilled professionals whose knowledge, training, and compassion keep Maine people healthy. Gaining more people in this critical profession will improve Maine people’s quality of life and provide a foundation for economic success for decades to come.”

“The past year has been like any other in terms of the range and complexity of challenges faced by Maine hospitals,” said Steven Michaud, president of the Maine Hospital Association. “Our members are experiencing unprecedented hardships and we look forward to continuing our work with the Governor and her Administration on how to support Maine’s hospitals. The initiatives announced today will attract more people to health professions, help retain current workers, and position our hospitals to keep providing high-quality care now and into the future.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has put a tremendous strain on Maine's nursing homes and assisted living communities and has made longstanding workforce shortages worse,” said Angela Westhoff, President and CEO of the Maine Health Care Association. “Our members are very concerned about staffing shortages as more burned-out caregivers exit the profession and fewer people enter it. MHCA is pleased to partner with the Administration on tangible solutions that will encourage, incentivize, and cultivate the next generation of Maine's health care professionals.”

“With the investments outlined today, Maine is positioning itself as a solutions-focused leader on health care workforce issues,” said Darcy Shargo, CEO of the Maine Primary Cary Association. “These initiatives show a significant commitment to addressing a long-standing challenge for Maine’s federally qualified health centers and the health care sector overall—the ability to attract and retain a strong, mission-oriented, and capable workforce. Now more than ever, we need state leaders to walk alongside us to build our health care workforce so that we can weather the inevitable after-storms of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Making It More Affordable for Maine People to Pursue Health Care Jobs: Supported by $4 million from the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan, these tuition support programs will provide scholarships and student loan relief to students pursuing careers in nursing, as doctors, or as other health professionals. The goal of the programs is to reduce the financial burdens that people interested in health care professions often must carry in order to enter the field. By making it more affordable for these individuals, the Governor hopes to make pursuing a career in health care more easily attainable.

Helping Health Care Workers Move Up The Career Ladder: Supported by $8.5 million from the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan, this tuition remission program will provide funding to health care employers or directly to interested employees to help them gain new skills, earn advanced credentials, and move up the career ladder. The program lowers barriers to training and education by providing the training free of charge to interested employees – as opposed to tuition reimbursement which requires upfront, out-of-pocket spending. Further, by investing in training and credential attainment for incumbent frontline health care workers, the program will help improve retention rates and increase the average wage among health care workers, improving outcomes for health care employers and their systems overall. The program will work with employers across sectors and sizes—including long term care, hospital, behavioral health and dental sectors. Data is currently being collected in real-time via employer survey input to ensure trainings meet on-the-ground needs.

Launching Targeted Recruitment Efforts to Promote Health Care Jobs: Supported by $1.5 million from the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan, the Maine Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Economic and Community Development will partner to launch a public service campaign to promote the value and importance of the health care profession with the goal of recruiting more people, especially young adults, into the field. The effort, which will span social media and radio and include a dedicated website, will market health care as a meaningful, rewarding career that provides incredible opportunity for advancement and good pay and benefits. $500,000 in funding will be specifically dedicated to promote direct care jobs as a great opportunity for career advancement.

Supported by $600,000 from the Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan, the Administration will also launch Health Care Career Navigators by the end of the year who will provide customized career guidance – including the creation of person-specific employment and training plans, help navigating available training opportunities, assistance with evaluation and translation of prior credentials, and referrals for health care job and apprenticeship opportunities – to help introduce people into health care jobs. These navigators will be housed within the Maine Department of Labor’s CareerCenters and will work closely with employers and community-based partners to connect jobseekers with opportunities. Navigators will also help out-of-state and foreign-trained professionals translate credentials, access licensing, and learn how prior training may apply to health care jobs in Maine.

These initiatives build on the Mills Administration’s substantial financial support for Maine’s health care sector during the pandemic. In 2020, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services distributed nearly $60 million in one-time, temporary payment increases to a broad range of health care providers.

In the summer of 2021, it provided $40 million in one-time payments to behavioral health providers, hospitals, and nursing homes. This week, it will make the second installment of $123 million in Medicaid supplemental payments authorized by the biennial budget Governor Mills signed into law to Maine nursing facilities, certain residential care facilities, and adult family care homes to support workforce recruitment and retention efforts as they grapple with longstanding workforce challenges exacerbated by the pandemic.

Additionally, the Department last week issued $23 million in one-time supplemental payments to Maine’s hospitals. The funding, which was authorized through the budget, can also be used to address workforce issues. In addition to resources, the Department provides a range of flexibilities and supports for recruiting and retaining health care workers.

The Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan is the Governor’s plan, approved by the Legislature, to invest nearly $1 billion in Federal American Rescue Plan funds to achieve three goals: immediate economic recovery from the pandemic; long-term economic growth for Maine; and infrastructure revitalization. It draws heavily on recommendations from the Governor’s Economic Recovery Committee and the State’s 10-Year Economic Development Strategy, transforming them into real action to improve the lives of Maine people and strengthen the economy.

Last week, Governor Mills announced $139 million in the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan’s first investments, including $20 million for a new small business grant program, $39 million to help lower monthly health insurance premiums, and $80 million to replenish the Maine Unemployment Trust fund and mitigate tax hikes for small businesses.

In coming weeks, the Mills Administration will continue to announce more Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan investments to address known, systemic challenges that have constrained Maine’s ability to grow and thrive, with priority focus on investments to grow and develop Maine’s workforce.

With more than $300 million in planned workforce investments through education and skills training programs, workforce housing, childcare, worker attraction, and business supports, the Jobs Plan aims to make a measurable impact on Maine’s workforce trends and build an economy poised for future growth.

Workforce investments in the Jobs Plan include $105 million for workforce programs at Maine schools, community colleges, and universities; $50 million for affordable and workforce housing, $20 million to expand Pre-K and childcare infrastructure, and programs targeted directly at addressing pressing workforce needs in health care and clean energy fields.

Other investments from the Jobs Plan include critical infrastructure investments, such as expanding broadband, enhancing state parks, accelerating weatherization and energy efficiency projects, and upgrading municipal stormwater and drinking water projects.

Funding for the Jobs Plan is through the federal American Rescue Plan Act, which allocated $4.5 billion in stimulus funds to Maine earlier this year.

Coordination of the Jobs Plan is led by the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services and the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future, through a new Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan Office.

This Office will oversee the transparent and accountable implementation of the Jobs Plan, including ensuring that proposed expenditures are permissible under U.S. Treasury eligibility guidance, the final version of which remains pending.