Maine Department of Health and Human Services is distributing $146 million to long-term care facilities and hospitals to help with workforce recruitment and retention
The Mills Administration announced today that it will begin enforcement of its COVID-19 vaccination requirement for health care workers on October 29, 2021, providing an additional month for health care workers to complete their vaccination protocol and for health care organizations to use $146 million in forthcoming funds to address workforce needs.
The Mills Administration announced yesterday that it is distributing $146 million in State and Federal funding to Maine nursing facilities, certain residential care facilities, adult family care homes, and hospitals to support workforce recruitment and retention efforts as they grapple with workforce shortages resulting primarily from exposure to the COVID-19 virus and longstanding labor shortages. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services will begin issuing the payments this month to support these facilities prior to the Administration beginning enforcement of the rule.
“My goal is that every health care worker in Maine is vaccinated. Anyone who is placed in the care of a health care worker has the right to expect – as do their families – that they will receive high-quality, safe care from fully vaccinated staff,” said Governor Janet Mills. “Allowing this additional time and providing $146 million in funding to recruit and retain vaccinated workers will help protect the lives of medical staff and patients, protect our health care capacity, and reduce the spread of the virus.”
“It is urgent that employees in health care settings get vaccinated as the Delta variant causes hospitals, nursing homes, and other organizations to lose staff and capacity due to isolation and quarantine and, in some cases, serious illness,” said Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, and Nirav D. Shah, Director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “The extra time allows those health care workers who prefer the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, which received its full approval on August 23, three weeks to get the first shot and still be fully vaccinated by October 29.”
The State will continue to advance an emergency rule requiring vaccination of health care workers by October 1, 2021. It will begin enforcement of that rule on October 29, 2021, rather than October 1st, providing additional time for health workers to become fully vaccinated and for health care organizations to use significant forthcoming financial support to maintain their capacity to care for patients and residents. These efforts will protect health care personnel and Maine people in health care facilities, safeguard Maine’s health care capacity, and limit the spread of the virus.
COVID-19 vaccines are free and widely available throughout the state. The Maine CDC has also procured 10,000 additional doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine that it has prioritized for health care workers.
The health care worker vaccination requirement has the support of a broad coalition of health care providers across Maine, including Maine Hospital Association, Maine Medical Association, Maine Primary Care Association, and Maine Health Care Association, along with the state’s two largest health systems, MaineHealth and Northern Light Health.
“Hospitals and health systems continue to support Maine’s vaccine requirement for health care workers,” said Steven Michaud, President of the Maine Hospital Association. “It remains the single most effective way to keep our patients and caregivers safe which is our number one priority. We will continue to implement the requirement and educate our employees on these safe and effective vaccines.”
“Maine Health Care Association appreciates the Administration’s decision,” said Angela Westhoff, President and CEO of the Maine Health Care Association. “We welcome the additional time and flexibility as employee vaccination efforts continue. We know the vaccine is the best tool to fight the pandemic and protect the health and safety of our long-term care residents, staff, and communities.”
“Northern Light Health remains confident that Maine’s decision to require health care workers to become fully vaccinated against COVID-19 is the correct choice for our workforce, our communities, and most importantly, our patients,” said Tim Dentry, President and CEO of Northern Light Health. “We sincerely hope that more people will use this additional time to discuss becoming vaccinated with their healthcare provider, learn more about the benefits of vaccination, and ultimately decide to get vaccinated.”
“Requiring vaccination for all health care workers at licensed facilities statewide is both ambitious and necessary,” said Dr. Andrew Mueller, chief executive of MaineHealth. “We know for some of our care team, the choice to get vaccinated has been difficult. We hope this extra time will allow our unvaccinated colleagues to get the information they need to make an informed choice on behalf of themselves, their colleagues, our patients and our communities.”
As of today, more than half (nearly 58 percent or 19 out of 33) of Maine’s open COVID-19 outbreaks are occurring in health care facilities, forcing infected health care personnel to isolate or quarantine and driving staff shortages. Vaccinations are the most effective tool to prevent staffing shortages caused by unvaccinated workers.
Since Governor Mills announced the requirement on August 12th, vaccination rates among health care workers have increased. MaineHealth has experienced a four percentage point increase in vaccinations, while Northern Light Health has seen its vaccination rate increase by more than six percentage points to 88 percent of all staff.
The $146 million in supplemental payments to Maine’s long-term care facilities and hospitals build on Maine’s significant financial and operational support for health care providers on the front lines of the pandemic. The Mills Administration has already awarded $25 million to 14 hospitals and 96 long-term care facilities to help health care organizations recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. In December 2020, the Administration also awarded $5.1 million in grants to 53 health care organizations that serve residents with MaineCare to help sustain vital health services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Early in the pandemic, the Department of Health and Human Services provided immediate support of $10 million to hospitals through supplemental payments and $20 million to nursing facilities, long-term care facilities and other congregate care facilities through temporary rate increases. Maine health care providers have also received over $660 million directly from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through the Provider Relief Fund, which was authorized under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
The State of Maine has long required the immunization of employees of designated health care facilities to reduce the risk of exposure to, and possible transmission of, vaccine-preventable diseases. These immunizations include measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis B, and influenza. This existing rule has been amended to include the COVID-19 vaccine. The organizations to which this requirement applies must ensure that each employee is fully vaccinated, with this requirement being enforced as a condition of the facilities’ licensure.
Under the long-standing rule, health care workers are defined as including any individual employed by a hospital, multi-level health care facility, home health agency, nursing facility, residential care facility, and intermediate care facility for individuals with intellectual disabilities that is licensed by the State of Maine. The emergency rule also requires those employed by emergency medical service organizations or dental practices to be vaccinated for COVID-19.
According to a mandated survey of health care settings by the Department of Health and Human Services, 80.3 percent of staff at hospitals, 73 percent of staff at nursing facilities, and 68.2 percent of staff at intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of late July.
Maine continues to make nation-leading progress with its vaccination effort. Governor Mills announced earlier this month that 80 percent of eligible people in Maine have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, achieving another milestone for the state as it continues to confront an increase in cases associated with the Delta variant. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U.S. CDC), 83 percent of adults (18+) in Maine have received a COVID-19 vaccination.
Maine is the fourth best state in the nation in the percentage of residents who are fully vaccinated, with more than 65.9 percent of all residents – including children under 12 who are not yet eligible for a vaccine – fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Maine also continues to make progress in vaccinating younger people, with more than 54 percent of youth ages 12 to 19 being fully vaccinated.
COVID-19 vaccines are available at no charge at sites across the state. For information on getting a vaccine, please visit Maine.gov/covid19/vaccines or call the Community Vaccination Line at 1-888-445-4111.
Despite having the oldest median age population in the country, Maine, adjusted for population, ranks third lowest in total number of cases and fourth lowest in number of deaths from COVID-19 from the start of the pandemic, according to the U.S. CDC.