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MaineHealth offers vaccine to all 22,000 of its employees

The Portland Press Herald reported over the weekend that MaineHealth is vaccinating all employees, not just front-line workers

MAINE, USA — MaineHealth has admitted to vaccinating all of its employees -- not just those who are on the front lines of the pandemic, but also employees who never come in contact with patients or medical personnel, the Portland Press Herald reported this weekend.

Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz spoke to NEWS CENTER Maine about his report and what he's hearing from people. He said when he first got the tip, he was a little skeptical. But then he spoke to MaineHealth CEO Bill Caron, who said they're vaccinating everyone to protect the organization's infrastructure.

MaineHealth said in a statement in part, "At all times MaineHealth vaccinated its care team members in accordance with U.S. CDC and Maine CDC guidelines, and news reports to the contrary are false."

RELATED: First doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered to Maine frontline health care workers

Nemitz told NEWS CENTER Maine that Caron told him MaineHealth was already in tier five of its five-tier plan on the last day of 2020, when the state removed work-from-home health-care workers from the vaccination list.

"The more we spoke about it the more apparent it became that he was well aware that especially those vaccinations that took place from January on were in contradiction with the Maine CDC," Nemitz said.

Maine DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew responded to a question about this during Tuesday's state coronavirus briefing, saying the following:

“Ensuring that people have confidence, first and foremost, in our vaccine plan and administration is at the top of our minds. We appreciate the fact that the supply is not coming fast enough, that there are vulnerable people at risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19 that are still waiting for that vaccine to be scheduled, the appointments to be scheduled, or the sites to be open.

This means that we will continue to be and be more aggressive with our providers to ensure that they are following the governor’s guidelines which, as Dr. Shah mentioned, are set based on the need to save lives. We do know that older Mainers, people age 70 and older, are the ones at most risk of death. While we’ve gotten fairly far in vaccinating them – we’re close to 30 percent of people 70 and older who’ve gotten their first dose of vaccine – we have a long way to go. As such, we are reiterating that our guidelines are requirements. We’re saying in multiple forms of communication that failing to follow these guidelines could be a violation of the provider agreements, which set up the terms for them getting the vaccine. And we continue to underscore that our plan, which right now is simple – people ages 70 and older – is designed to save lives. 

We continue to try to work with our providers to make sure they understand these rules. We will, as needed, increase that accountability and integrity of those programs and we do hope that again, with the supply expanding as Dr. Shah mentioned, from the Biden administration, we can quickly get to additional people.”

A similar situation occurred at Maine General Medical Center where, according to reports, the hospital was to vaccinate some of its donors. When Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah was asked about this on Feb. 2, he deferred the question to Governor Janet Mills and added, "I think what was reported raises questions around equity."

MaineHealth released a statement late Monday night:

"At the end of December, MaineHealth began to offer vaccinations for COVID-19 to all care team members, as well as contracted and temporary personnel who met the criteria set by the U.S. CDC and Maine CDC. This was done to secure the health care system’s infrastructure so that care could be provided to both COVID and non-COVID patients during the pandemic.

On Jan. 13, 2021, Maine’s website further refined the definition of health care workers to include only those individuals with direct patient contact, by which time MaineHealth had already provided the first doses of vaccine to its full care team, with the exception of those declining to be vaccinated. At all times MaineHealth vaccinated its care team members in accordance with U.S. CDC and Maine CDC guidelines, and news reports to the contrary are false.

MaineHealth’s decision to vaccinate all its care team members has proven critical as it prepares to set up mass vaccination clinics across its service area. For instance, a majority of those employees who have been working primarily from home during the pandemic are now being redeployed to staff vaccine clinics. MaineHealth stands by its decision to secure its full health care system by vaccinating its full care team. We believe that it is the best approach for patients, care team members, and the communities we serve.

During the week starting January 17, in an effort to fully protect our care team, Maine Medical Center offered the vaccine to a small number of individuals from out of state who were brought into Maine Medical Center to provide support to nurses and managers in answering questions about the impact of joining a union.  On January 18, new guidance was provided by the state that only residents of Maine are eligible for vaccines. We understand that non-Maine residents are not eligible for any vaccine and acknowledge that we erred in vaccinating those individuals."