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Small Maine health care providers struggle to find personal protective equipment

The Maine Medical Association said while the state has distributed nearly 2 million pieces of PPE, some have not received one mask.

FALMOUTH, Maine — Months into the COVID-19 pandemic, direct care providers in Maine are still struggling to find personal protective equipment to protect themselves and their patients. 

Dr. Karen Saylor and Dr. Alexandra Barr with Coastal Maine Direct Care in Falmouth said they are specifically worried about a limited supply of masks.

"So many supplies have been on backorder and having to navigate the system with that has been a big challenge," Barr told NEWS CENTER Maine. 

Barr and Saylor's practice serves patients 65 and older in their clinic and through home visits. Most of their equipment has been donated, including roughly 40 N-95 masks. 

Recently they have found it challenging to order equipment from distributors and have been forced to use online companies, but they still cannot source the N-95 mask.

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"We are not the only small practice that is having this problem," Saylor said. "Practices that are primary care-based and seeing the most vulnerable patients really should be prioritized."

More than 200 miles north in Washington County Eastport Health Care, Inc. is also concerned about their limited supplies. 

"It's scary for small places like us who want to take care of our patients, who want to ensure," CEO Ellen Krajewski said. 

Eastport Health Care provides health care services in Eastport, Machias, and Calais.

Krajewski said she has not been able to get enough supplies from her county emergency management agency, so she ordered N-95 masks from overseas.

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"We'll order online and it will say that it's ordered but it never gets sent," she said. "I don't think it's on everyone's radar. We need more PPE."

The State of Maine has distributed more than 1.8 million pieces of personal protective equipment, according to the Maine Emergency Management Agency.

State officials told NEWS CENTER Maine said equipment sourced through independent distributors is primarily for first responders, long-term care facilities, and hospitals, not private practitioners. 

"We can certainly relate to the frustration about PPE because we have tried right from the get-go to get PPE from the federal government and we never received what we should have received," MEMA spokesperson Susan Faloon said. 

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Maine Emergency Management coordinates with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to distribute necessary equipment to county agencies and directly to facilities when outbreaks occur. 

Faloon said there is no 'cache of PPE' being withheld. 

CDC experts and members of the Maine Medical Association met virtually last week to discuss plans to better support small direct care providers. 

"There is no federal plan, but Maine alone has distributed nearly 2 million pieces of PPE and almost every private physician practice is still waiting for its first mask," MMA spokesperson Dan Morin said in a statement. "Infection control is a concern every minute of every day in physician practices. Every interaction runs the risk of someone spreading COVID-19 to the communities they live in."

Larger state health care organizations, including MaineHealth, told NEWS CENTER Maine they have 'stabilized' their supplies. 

"Though it has thus far not been required, we will continue to look to the state and federal governments for support in assuring that medical supplies will remain stable throughout the pandemic," a spokesperson for MaineHealth said in a statement.