PORTLAND, Maine – Executives at MaineHealth, northern New England’s largest healthcare system, said today they expect capacity issues in the region’s healthcare sector to persist in the coming months and asked for patient understanding and support from the community and policy makers.
Andrew Mueller, MD, chief executive of MaineHealth, said much of the challenge can be attributed to a labor shortage that has been growing for some time, and he spoke at length about the need to train more clinical professionals. He also said other factors are making it harder for health care providers to meet demand right now.
“We’re still fighting, just a really hot pandemic. We are seeing the highest number of hospitalized patients since the start of the pandemic, right now ”, said Mueller.
Additionally, Mueller said, many patients who naturally delayed care are now arriving at MaineHealth hospitals much sicker, placing greater demands on the organization’s care team. Mueller also noted that the current labor shortage is not only impacting MaineHealth, but also health care organizations in the region. This makes it difficult for patients to transition from the hospital to skilled nursing facilities and behavioral health facilities.
Mueller said that while the departures of healthcare workers due to the state of Maine’s requirement to be vaccinated against COVID-19 will have some impact in the near term, the real challenge lies in global trends. long-term labor market. Mueller presented data that showed COVID-19-related infections and quarantines have been a significant challenge for the healthcare system and that vaccination is the right way to protect healthcare team members, patients and communities.
“It’s very clear to us that the immunization mandate really helps protect and preserve our workforce. ” said Mueller, who added that having the entire MaineHealth healthcare team immunized is not only in line with what is best for patients and the community, but supports the organization’s vision of “Working Together to Make Our Communities healthiest in America ”.
At Tuesday’s virtual press conference, Joel Botler, MD, chief medical officer at Maine Medical Center, said the state’s largest hospital is seeing unprecedented demand. This translates into ongoing evaluation and rescheduling of certain elective procedures in the hospital. In addition, the MMC emergency department has been frequently ‘hijacked’ in recent weeks, meaning only life-threatening and other critical cases are taken care of and others are referred elsewhere for care.
Cindy Wade, IA., president of LincolnHealth in Damariscotta and Boothbay Harbor, said her rural hospital network was strained by increased demand and a shortage of workers. She said that in her hospital there was a particular challenge with patients who need care in a nursing home but cannot find a place due to the labor shortage affecting the nursing home. skilled nursing care.
Wade also urged people whose lives are not of concern to use LincolnHealth’s emergency care center in Boothbay Harbor rather than the emergency department at Damariscotta Hospital. She said that even if someone has to drive a bit to get to Boothbay Harbor, it is likely that they will receive care and return home sooner than if they seek similar care in the emergency department.
Health system leaders have called on patients and communities to do their part to alleviate provider capacity issues.
Mueller urged people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, noting that the sickest COVID patients are those who are not vaccinated.
The leaders also stressed the importance of finding the best place of care. Across the healthcare system, hours have been extended for walk-in care, emergency care and in doctor’s offices to help relieve the pressure on emergency departments.
MaineHealth is taking a number of actions in response to capacity issues, including:
- Form a working group specifically targeting capacity. The working group uses a ‘capacity dashboard’ which allows it to see on a daily basis where beds are available across the healthcare system and where patients can be transferred appropriately to receive the best possible care.
- Reduce non-urgent procedures, evaluate them on a day-to-day basis according to capacities.
- MaineHealth Medical Group expansion of outpatient access, including extension of primary care, walk-in, emergency care and telehealth hours to help reduce pressure on emergency departments .
- Focus on supply chain efforts to ensure the health system has the right equipment to keep everyone safe.
- Create incentives to add staff, including a $ 61 million market adjustment to pay system-wide in August and even higher increases for some of the more difficult positions to fill, ensuring that wages are competitive. The system has also significantly increased the employee referral bonus.
- Ongoing investment in training programs for critical positions, working both internally and with community partners to promote these opportunities. Longer term, the health care system will invest nearly $ 5 million next year in partnership with community colleges and higher education institutions to build a labor pool in the future.
Leaders also discussed other steps that can be taken to help alleviate capacity issues.
Mark Fourre, MD, president of Pen Bay Medical Center and Waldo County General Hospital in Rockland and Belfast, noted that there were three important priorities for the community and policy makers that would help improve the situation. One is reimbursements and behavioral health programs, which are felt today in the form of patients going through a mental health crisis and filling emergency department beds for days. “It’s a long-standing problem that has worsened today” said Fourré.
Fourre also noted that investments in local EMS businesses and other patient transport services as well as reimbursements for long-term care services in nursing homes were also lagging behind, and the fact failure to invest in these services worsens the current situation.
In addition, Mueller said the investments in training and education support for healthcare workers announced by Governor of Maine Janet Mills On Monday were positive steps forward, and he said he hoped the initiative would be followed by continued investment in expanding the state’s capacity to train nurses and other health professionals.
Mueller also had an additional request from the community on behalf of the entire MaineHealth care team, which is to continue to appreciate and respect the hard work healthcare workers do.
“One of the other things we need you to do is just be patient and recognize that we are all working hard to make sure everyone is taken care of in a timely manner. I cannot say it enough; we have the most incredible care team ”, said Mueller. “We have real heroes on the front lines.
Editors, Producer Journalists, Please Note:
The recording of the press conference is available here: https://vimeo.com/639191738/4cef5efbcb
In addition, two graphics were presented during the press conference. One showing COVID-19 absences among members of the MaineHealth care team over time and another showing the number of vacancies on the MaineHealth care team over time. Copies of these charts along with worksheets showing the data points used to create them are available here: https://assets.mainehealth.org/share/B87C425A-BB89-4B30-AE405F6DBA362B67/
MaineHealth is a not-for-profit integrated healthcare system comprised of nine local hospital systems, a comprehensive network of behavioral health care, diagnostic services, home health agencies and nearly 1,700 employed physicians working together through the MaineHealth Medical Group. With more than 23,000 employees, MaineHealth is the largest healthcare system in northern New England and provides preventative care, diagnostics and treatment to 1.1 million people in Maine and New Hampshire. It includes Franklin Memorial Hospital / Franklin Community Health Network in Farmington, LincolnHealth in Damariscotta and Boothbay Harbor, Maine Behavioral Healthcare in South Portland, MaineHealth Care at Home in Saco, Maine Medical Center in Portland, Memorial Hospital in North Conway, NH, Mid Coast-Parkview Health in Brunswick, NorDx in Scarborough, Pen Bay Medical Center and Waldo County Hospital in Rockport and Belfast, Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford and Sanford, Spring Harbor Hospital in Westbrook and Stephens Memorial Hospital / Western Maine Health Care in Norway. MaineHealth affiliates include Maine General Health in Augusta and Waterville, New England Rehabilitation Hospital in Portland, and St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston. He is also a major player in the MaineHealth Accountable Care Organization in Portland.