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September 23, 2021

More health care workers are getting vaccinated in Maine, but not everywhere

File Photo / William Hall At Maine Medical Center in Portland, the COVID-19 vaccination rate among employees now exceeds 90%.

Over a month since the state announced it will require all Maine health care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, a growing number of them are — but not all.

Data released this week by the Department of Health and Human Services shows the percentage of vaccinated workers increased from July to August across all five categories of health care providers that are monitored. In hospitals, the number grew from 80.2% to 84.6%. Among nursing home workers, the vaccination rate went from 72.1% to 77.2%.

All 38 Maine hospitals reported rates that increased or stayed basically level. At 637-bed Maine Medical Center, which employs 10,000 people in Portland and is the state’s largest hospital, the vaccinated portion of the workforce rose from 87.2% to 90.8%. At Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, the share increased from 78.2% to 82.1%.

On Monday, Millinocket Regional Hospital announced that all of its employees have received full vaccinations against COVID-19 — making the 25-bed critical access facility the first hospital in the state to reach 100%. Its rate, according to DHHS, was 98.2%.

“Our local MRH staff have been true heroes throughout these dangerous times,” CEO Robert Peterson wrote in a message posted on social media. “They have put their lives on the line for all of us, and once again have demonstrated their commitment to safety by agreeing to be vaccinated.”

Not all Maine health care providers recorded such improvements, however.

While vaccination rates for staff increased during August at dozens of nursing homes, some saw marked declines. At Gardiner Health Care Facility in Houlton, the rate went from 70.3% to 31.2%. At Bangor Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, the number dropped from 78.6% to 55.6%.

Attempts to reach those facilities and other nursing homes for comment were not immediately successful. But since long-term care facilities typically employ smaller workforces than acute-care hospitals, it’s likely some of the large decreases are the mathematical result of normal staff turnover.

Health care facilities of all types across Maine are also facing ongoing, but worsening, labor shortages.

Indeed, the health care hiring crunch earlier this month apparently led Gov. Janet Mills to extend the deadline for worker vaccination from the original date of Oct. 1 to Oct. 29. She also announced that the state will channel $146 million to Maine nursing facilities, residential care facilities, adult family care homes and hospitals to support workforce recruitment.

A new national survey of 14,000 health care providers found 78% of nursing homes are concerned that workforce challenges may force them to close, and 86% say their hiring situations have gotten worse over the past three months. The poll, published Wednesday by the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living, also found that nearly every nursing home (99%) and assisted living facility (96%) was facing a staffing shortage.

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