LEWISTON – The pandemic is stretching Maine’s hospitals beyond capacity, leadership from the state’s four major health care networks said at a joint news conference Thursday, pleading with Mainers to take every step possible to curb the surge of COVID-19 cases.

“I just want people to realize you count on all of us to provide care for the most serious illnesses and injuries across the state. And the more COVID we take care of in our hospitals, the less resources we have to take care of all of those other things that we need to do,” MaineHealth Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joan Boomsma said.

Boomsma, along with Central Maine Healthcare Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Alexander, Northern Light Health Incident Commander Dr. James Jarvis and MaineGeneral Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Steven Diaz, issued a plea to the public: Get vaccinated, wear a mask when indoors and physically distance in large crowds.

“Do it for yourself and for your neighbors and your families. But please do it for us as well,” Boomsma said.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state hit 133 Thursday, a number reminiscent of previous surges in Maine. Individuals in critical care and on ventilators also peaked at 59 and 27, respectively.

Hospitals are being pushed to a tipping point not necessarily by COVID inpatients, but by the ripple effects of the pandemic, in particular staffing shortages.

“But we’re full because the COVID pandemic has affected our ability to have partners who take our hospitalized patients (in order) to have beds open,” such as nursing homes, Diaz, from MaineGeneral Health, said. “Everything is just chock full.”

Eight COVID patients were hospitalized at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, Alexander said.

“From a capacity standpoint, we have continued – like all the other health systems – we’ve continued to try to fill every single bed and have had every single (staffed) bed filled that we could,” he said.

CMH’s critical access hospitals, Bridgton Hospital and Rumford Hospital, had no COVID patients, Alexander said.

The other medical directors said that even when they do have the capacity to add beds, there just isn’t the staff to support that.

“To put a finer point on it, we need everyone to please get vaccinated for the health of the community,” Diaz said. “And we need now a continued focus because we have not gotten in front of the pandemic. So, if everybody could, please listen to what we’re saying.”

The shortages predate the pandemic, but the loss of some health care providers add further stress to an already-stretched system. Some, over the course of the pandemic, opted to leave health care and some will may over the vaccine mandate.

The COVID vaccines protect providers and their patients from serious illness, the doctors said.

“We are losing staff because they are infected with COVID,” Boomsma said. “Right now, we are losing staff to the virus, not losing staff to the vaccine.”

St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston had no COVID patients as of Thursday afternoon, but the intensive care unit and emergency departments were “very, very busy (and) very close to capacity,” spokesman Steve Costello said.

While CMMC tends to have a higher daily COVID inpatient count because it has an acute care center, St. Mary’s is still feeling the pressure, Costello said.

“The concern, obviously, is there is a surge of COVID patients” statewide, he said. “On top of being busy already. And pretty much the same thing (said at the news conference) is that there’s a concern that there won’t be enough space for a surge of COVID patients if that happens.”

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