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National Guard and MEMA to help open alternative coronavirus care sites in Portland and Bangor

The effort calls for a total of 100 beds to be set up at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland and at least 50 beds to be set up at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor

AUGUSTA, Maine — Governor Janet Mills announced Tuesday the Maine National Guard and the Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) will work with Maine’s health care systems to open two alternative care sites in Portland and Bangor as part of the State’s preparations to bolster Maine health system capacity in the face of COVID-19.

The Governor’s Office and Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), including the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC), are partnering with MaineHealth, Northern Light Health, Central Maine Healthcare, MaineGeneral Health, and the Maine Hospital Association on comprehensive surge planning to ensure adequate capacity for the treatment for Mainers with COVID-19. 

The alternative care sites will free up hospital beds, if needed, to accommodate a potential surge of COVID-19 patients in the coming weeks. 

"For now, adequate hospital beds are available across the state," Mills said in a press conference on Tuesday. "Those hospital beds remain the first choice for treating all patients in need of in-patient care."

“I hope we never need to use these sites, but we cannot afford to wait to find out…building them now will ensure that if the need does arise, we will be prepared, and Maine people will be cared for, and Maine people will survive.”

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The effort calls for a total of 100 beds to be set up at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland and at least 50 beds to be set up at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor as additional capacity for hospitals. 

Logistical support will come from the Maine CDC, Maine National Guard, MEMA, as well as the Cities of Portland and Bangor and Cumberland and Penobscot Counties. 

The alternative care sites are expected to be set up as soon as next week, and staffed shortly thereafter, should they be needed. The health systems will work with the State on the clinical models and staffing for these sites in the coming days. Further details will be released once the plan is finalized.

“I hope we never need to use these alternative care sites, but we cannot afford to wait to find out. Establishing them now will ensure that, if the need does arise, we will be prepared and Maine people will receive appropriate care,” Mills said. “My Administration will continue to work closely with Maine’s hospital systems to expand our capacity to meet the challenges of COVID-19 and its impacts on Maine people. I continue to urge all Maine people to do their part and stay apart. Doing so will save lives.”

"The Maine National Guard is postured to provide personnel and transportation assets to aid in the initial set up of the alternative care sites,” Major General Douglas Farnham, Maine’s Adjutant General, said. “We are prepared to provide additional support to Maine CDC and MEMA as this response continues to unfold.”

The State’s broader response to the pandemic includes providing key supports to health care organizations, such as:

  • Personal Protective Equipment: The State is working on three fronts to protect our front-line workers in the fight against COVID-19. First, the Mills Administration continues to request from the Federal government a greater share of the Strategic National Stockpile and other Federal sources of PPE. Second, the Administration is working to procure its own PPE efficiently and effectively. Third, the State is working to produce supplies in Maine. For example, the State has worked with the University of Maine System which has produced over 630 gallons of hand sanitizer so far for over 30 hospitals. The Department of Corrections has produced 1,000 cloth face coverings and 200 gowns for its use.
  • Staffing: The Administration is also asking clinicians to sign up for the “Maine Responds” Emergency Health Volunteer System that organizes health care, public health, and emergency response volunteers to respond to emergency situations. Already, approximately 300 have signed up. Nearly half of these anesthesiologists, certified registered nurse anesthesiologists, and respiratory therapists who can help manage a hospital surge.
  • Regulatory flexibility: Maine DHHS submitted an 1135 waiver to the federal government that was approved today to give hospitals greater flexibility to rapidly discharge patients to nursing facilities to free up beds, bring on providers from different states, and allocate staff to meet patient needs in this crisis.
  • Financial support: DHHS is preparing to take a first step next week to financially support Maine’s hospitals in responding to COVID-19 by making $10 million in supplemental payments to hospitals. This is part of the Administration’s larger effort to support Maine’s health care workers and organizations as they battle COVID-19 and its ripple effects on our residents and health system.

“As soon as next week, Maine will be better prepared for any potential surge we may see in the coming weeks. We look forward to further engaging in this important work," MEMA Director Peter Rogers said.

"Maine’s high-quality hospitals have ably managed the influx of COVID-19 patients to date,” DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said. “But this pandemic rivals all others of the last century in its spread and impact. We continue to support Maine’s health care system, as well as our nursing facilities, group homes, home- and community-based providers, and behavioral health care providers, among others, with their ongoing services and care for Mainers with COVID-19."

According to a press release, Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center has developed a surge plan that will provide care for up to 250 COVID-19 positive patients, and up to 90 other patients (COVID-19 or non-COVID-19) requiring ventilator support. “Additionally, we continue to work with our region’s healthcare partners, and city, county, and state officials on a potential site for additional temporary surge beds if required," Tim Dentry, President and CEO of Northern Light Health said.

"The people of Cumberland County own the Cross Insurance Arena," Cumberland County Manager James Gailey said in a statement. "It's here for them now, to provide comfort and care. We'll do everything we can to support the state and medical communities in making the Arena a safe place for Maine people to heal.”

“Central Maine Healthcare continues to work with our peers, in partnership with State, federal and local governments to make sure our communities are adequately resourced,” said Jeff Brickman, president and CEO of Central Maine Healthcare. “Additionally we are preparing across our system to make sure we have the capacity to care for patients in any surge of this outbreak.”

According to modeling, while Maine’s critical care capacity is likely sufficient in aggregate for acute COVID-19 patients under most scenarios, staffing for and geographic distribution of those beds remain focal points. Major hospitals are working on options to augment staffing, transfer patients to other sites, and otherwise maximize existing capacity.

This capacity could be expanded, such as by converting some beds to critical care beds, though new capacity may need to be concentrated in areas where the necessary staff are already available, in light of preexisting workforce challenges. For example, MaineGeneral Health has the capacity to convert up to 30 beds for COVID-19 critical care. Maine Medical Center could convert some of the 64 beds on its new cancer floors to COVID-19 critical care beds. Northern Light Health has developed a surge plan that will provide care to up to 90 additional patients (COVID-19 or non-COVID-19) requiring ventilator support.

Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah explained that modeling exercises are for planning purposes, and are not necessarily to predict what will happen.

"The value we derive is to know how to prepare for the next day [...] Right now in Maine we have an opportunity to prevent a larger outbreak from taking hold," Shah said.

DHHS continues to work to maximize state and federal financial support during the COVID-19 pandemic for a range of providers throughout the state.

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