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Maine health officials: Hospitals stretched thin due to record number of COVID patients

Dr. Dora Anne Mills from MaineHealth said emergency departments all over Maine are so full some patients have to be treated on beds in hallways.

PORTLAND, Maine — Maine's hospitals are filled with COVID patients after the state set a new record of 330 people in hospitals with the virus.

Hospital leaders said they're running out of beds and are having to treat some COVID patients in emergency department hallways.

"People are often taken care of these days in a bed in a hallway," Dr. Dora Anne Mills, chief health improvement officer for MaineHealth, said. "Our hospitals in Maine don't have that many rooms. How many more beds can we put into a hallway?"

Mills said what the exception pre-pandemic is now commonplace.

"We are definitely in crisis mode, and we have been for a while," Mills said.

Thirty-three critical care beds are available. While hospitals can "flex" regular beds into ICU beds, the ability to do so relies on two important factors: equipment and staffing. Maine is dealing with a health care workforce shortage.

"We just don't know how much more we can do that," Mills said.

Two weeks ago, 275 people were in Maine hospitals with the virus. As of November 30, 330 people were in those beds. Seventy-four were in critical care two weeks ago. On Tuesday, there were 100.

Among the hundreds of patients are those who are no longer contagious but still need hospital-level care. That means Maine's record of 330 patients with the virus is actually under-reported, due to how the federal government defines who is a "COVID patient." The feds said patients who are currently contagious should be included in the count.

"They got hospitalized two to six [or] seven weeks ago. Some of them are still in the hospital, but they're no longer showing up in those numbers," Mills said.

Now, even Maine's rural hospitals are filling up. Early in the pandemic, most COVID patients went to urban-area hospitals, Mills said.

"Now, we're able to take care of patients closer to home in our rural hospitals, particularly if they're not critically ill. So we're able to do it, but we also need to do it because we need to save, for instance, the beds at Maine Medical Center and our bigger hospitals for those that are critically ill," Mills said.

Maine's public health leaders are begging people who are not vaccinated to get the shot, and with the emergence of the omicron variant, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging all adults to get boosters.

Mills, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah, and Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew worry about what cases will look like about one week from now when they expect a spike in people testing positive after gathering for Thanksgiving.

Public health leaders worry that spike could also lead to more people going to the hospital with the virus, stretching hospital staff and resources even more.

More NEWS CENTER Maine stories.