Contact: John Porter
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As the Delta variant spreads through the ranks of the unvaccinated, the region’s largest health care system says its hospitals are full and patients can expect long wait times for inpatient care and even clinic-based services.
PORTLAND, Maine – Leaders from across MaineHealth, the largest integrated health care network in northern New England, said today an unprecedented increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations among unvaccinated is pushing their network to the brink.
As a result, Maine Medical Center in Portland, the region’s leading tertiary care center, sometimes ran out of intensive care beds this week and had to move patients away from the emergency department. In the MaineHealth system, other hospitals are seeing an unprecedented increase in the number of cases. As a result, many non-emergency procedures have had to be rescheduled and patients have to wait long for care in both hospitals and medical practices.
Andrew Mueller, MD, chief executive officer of MaineHealth, said hospitalizations for COVID-19 have reached an all-time high across the system, which serves 1.1 million people in 11 counties in Maine and Carroll County, NH.
“As much as we hoped we were wrong, this seems to be a pretty consistent trend as a result of the Thanksgiving holiday. So we don’t think we’ve seen the full width of this wave and that probably won’t be until later.” happen in two to three weeks, and then of course we’re worried that this will lead to what will eventually become a post-Christmas and New Year’s wave,” said Mueller, who appeared with other leaders from across MaineHealth at a media conference broadcast via Zoom. held.
The impact on MaineHealth’s operations has been significant. Joel Botler, MDMaine Medical Center chief medical officer said MMC sometimes had no intensive care beds available this week. The emergency department, meanwhile, is overcrowded with patients and has had regular ‘diversion’ meaning only the most critical cases are accepted.
To cope with the surge, many non-emergency procedures — procedures that can be delayed without significant harm to the patient — have been rescheduled. Botler said MMC had to close six additional operating rooms, in addition to six that were already closed, to free up staff to care for patients suffering from COVID-19 and other critical illnesses. He said about 50 percent of operations at MMC are now being rescheduled. Operating room closures not only free up healthcare team members to work in other areas, but also create additional bed space for limited use.
The capacity challenges are not limited to the region’s leading tertiary care center. Ryan Knapp, MD, chief medical officer of Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway and an active emergency medicine physician, said his small Critical Access hospital is also full.
“What we’re seeing now is there’s a significant burden in the rural counties like Oxford County, where our hospital is, that have very low vaccination rates and therefore we’re seeing very high COVID infection rates,” Knapp said.
Demand for staff to deal with COVID at MaineHealth’s hospitals, as well as increased volume due to people delaying care earlier in the pandemic and ongoing health care labor shortages nationally, have all had an impact. outpatient care across the region. . Patients can expect long wait times for all types of care, including laboratory services and visits to primary care and specialty care providers.
During the media conference, Mueller noted that state and local officials have been good partners during the pandemic. For example, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services was recently able to deploy some public health nurses to help administer monoclonal antibody therapies, which have been shown to significantly reduce the likelihood of hospitalization for those at risk for severe COVID. Still, he said little can be done about the national shortage of health workers. The problem, he and others said, isn’t finding space to treat patients, but staff.
As of Wednesday, MaineHealth had 116 patients in hospitals across the system being treated for COVID-19, 82 of whom were unvaccinated. The proportion of unvaccinated patients in an intensive care unit was higher: 39 of the 48 were not immunized. Of the 20 patients who were on a ventilator, all but three had not been vaccinated.
Both Christine Hein, MD, an emergency physician at MMC, and Christopher Bowe, MD, chief medical officer at Mid Coast – Parkview Health in Brunswick and also an emergency medicine physician, said they are seeing much younger people with serious illness now than before in the pandemic. Ryan noted that this is a feature of younger people having lower vaccination rates at a time when COVID is on the rise.
All participants repeatedly urged people to get vaccinated or get a booster if they were eligible.
“While this isn’t easy for everyone to hear, this really is largely a pandemic of unvaccinated people,” Mueller said. “So vaccination, including getting a booster, is critical for all of us, and really, to work with us to achieve our vision of ‘Working together so our communities are the healthiest in America’.”
Mueller also asked that people continue to support and value the members of the MaineHealth healthcare team. He noted that patient frustrations began to spill over in some instances where healthcare team members were verbally and sometimes even physically abused.
“Part of our message today is to really beg our community, in a sincere way: Kindness matters. These are great heroes who do so much for all of us. Please do your part to be nice to them and respect them,” Mueller said.
Editors, reporters, producers take note:
You can find B-roll images of this week’s activities in the hospitals here: https://assets.mainehealth.org/web/7e4559f338ef866d/media-b-roll/
The recording of the press conference can be found here: https://vimeo.com/654607612/349da969a4
MaineHealth is a non-profit integrated health system comprised of nine local hospital systems, an extensive behavioral health network, diagnostic services, home health facilities, and more than 1,500 working and independent physicians working together through the MaineHealth Medical Group. With approximately 22,000 employees, MaineHealth is the largest health system in northern New England, providing preventive care, diagnosis and treatment to 1.1 million residents of 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. It is also a major stakeholder in the MaineHealth Accountable Care Organization in Portland.