A best-selling Maine author said Wednesday that her father contracted COVID-19 from exposure to an unvaccinated nurse in a Bangor hospital and died there last week following a series of health care delays caused by the virus.

William Baker, 2021 Photo courtesy of Christina Baker Kline

Christina Baker Kline, a New York Times bestselling author of eight novels, said COVID-19 isn’t the official cause of death for her father, former University of Maine professor William Baker, but the virus contributed to delays in his care and kept him in the hospital longer than was necessary, ultimately leading to his death. He was 83.

“He died in quarantine with COVID with multiple infections that he got in the hospital as the result of COVID-related delays,” said Kline, who lives in Southwest Harbor and New York City.

On Tuesday Kline wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post highlighting the strain a surge in cases among the unvaccinated has put on hospitals and gaps in vaccinations among health care workers. “(Staff) shortages, I believe, cost my father months and perhaps years of his life,” Kline wrote. “By placing the rights of unvaccinated staff, patients and visitors above those of vaccinated patients and their families, hospitals are increasing pain and suffering – and are failing to protect vulnerable people from COVID-related isolation, illness and death.”

Suzanne Spruce, a spokeswoman for Northern Light Health, the parent company of Eastern Maine Medical Center, said she could not comment Wednesday on the care of specific patients and could not share the hospital’s vaccination policy. She said the systemwide vaccination rate for Northern Light is 92.9 percent.

“As for rehab beds, I can tell you that the challenge is we often can’t move people to where they need to be,” Spruce said in an email. “If someone goes to our acute rehab and needs to go to long-term care, they can end up staying with us longer because it is difficult to place someone in a facility right now. We manage this as best we can, however this is not a problem that is unique to us – there is a shortage of beds for those who need long-term care and rehab both in Maine and across the nation.”


Maine is requiring all hospital staff and many other health care workers get vaccinated by Oct. 1, unless they have medical exemptions. The state does not plan to begin enforcing the mandate as a requirement of state healthcare licenses until Oct. 29.

“We remain in full support of Maine’s vaccine mandate for health care workers and expect to be fully compliant with the state’s mandate by the deadline of October 29,” Spruce said.

A native of northern Georgia, Baker was the first person in his family to graduate from eighth grade and went to college on a football scholarship. He was planning on becoming a minister but ended up getting a scholarship to study at Cambridge University in England for a summer. A mentor convinced him to stay and he went on to earn his Ph.D. there, his daughter said.

Baker spent more than 30 years as a history professor at UMaine and served on the Bangor school board. He was married to former Maine House Rep. Christina L. Baker, who died in 2013. Kline, whose bestselling novels include “Orphan Train” and “The Exiles,” is one of the William and Christina Baker’s four daughters.

“He didn’t care about money,” Kline said. “He never cared about material things. All he cared about was learning and experiences and helping others.”

Baker recently split his time between Aiken, South Carolina, and Southwest Harbor, where his daughters all have homes and live there either year-round or seasonally. Five months ago he fell and broke his hip in South Carolina. He had surgery, but the surgery was unsuccessful and while in Maine this summer his family tried to help him schedule a second partial hip replacement.


William Baker celebrates his 80th birthday in Aiken, S.C. Clockwise beginning at 11 o’clock: Christina Baker Kline, Cynthia Baker, Catherine Baker-Pitts and Clara Baker. Photo courtesy of Christina Baker Kline

Kline said they encountered difficulty trying to schedule a new procedure in either South Carolina or Georgia because of pandemic restrictions on elective surgeries. The family was eventually able to book the surgery at Eastern Maine Medical Center, but Kline said they worried about the spike in COVID cases.

“He had the surgery and it was a success and his vital signs were fine,” Kline said. “The surgeon said he would be released within 24 to 48 hours to a rehab facility, but there were no beds available and the time stretched on for weeks.”

A bed finally opened up at a rehab facility nearby, but Kline said that option worried the family because the presence of active COVID patients at the facility meant Baker would automatically have to be in quarantine if he were to go there. “We were on the fence about it for a day or two because of the fact he would be going into quarantine indefinitely there,” she said.

Baker’s stay at the hospital ended up being further delayed, however, after he contracted MRSA, a staph infection common in hospitals. Then, about a week and a half ago, Kline said the family was notified that her father, who was fully vaccinated, would have to quarantine due to an exposure to COVID-19.

She said her sister, Cynthia, was at the hospital with their father when staff came in and said he had been exposed. “She asked the head nurse directly,” Kline said. “She said, ‘I want to know exactly what happened. Unless you tell me otherwise, I am going to take the fact that it was the nurse who was unvaccinated,’ and the head nurse just stared at her and did not answer.”

Kline said the hospital was reluctant to confirm that her father’s exposure was from an unvaccinated nurse, but “it just became tacitly clear it was an unvaccinated nurse.” She said her sister Clara also learned from a different nurse that their father’s nurse had been unvaccinated.

Spruce, the Northern Light Health spokeswoman, said that Eastern Maine Medical Center, like other health care providers in Maine, has seen instances of patients and staff testing positive for COVID-19 as transmission rates remain high around the state.

“We are currently testing any staff member who is showing symptoms, is known to have been around a COVID-positive individual, or who requires surveillance testing,” she said. “Once the state mandate goes into effect, unvaccinated employees will not be able to work unless they have a medical exemption.”

Kline said her family understands there are always risks for an older person in a hospital setting, but she believes her father would still be alive if not for the many delays he encountered in trying to get care. And she believes it is irresponsible for hospitals to expose vulnerable patients to unvaccinated staff. “The point is unvaccinated people all along the way have led to my father dying from a surgery that was supposed to be pretty routine,” she said.

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