LEWISTON – About 70 employees of Central Maine Healthcare have either left or submitted their resignation since the state announced the vaccination mandate for health care workers, CMH’s chief medical officer said Friday.

“It’s having a big impact on top of an already-present workforce shortage,” Dr. John Alexander said. Central Maine Healthcare is the parent organization to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, Bridgton Hospital and Rumford Hospital, as well as Maine Urgent Care and a primary care network.

“Frankly, on top of that, a lot of people, a lot of front-line caregivers who have been working through this pandemic are tired,” he said.

Alexander said that as of this week, 86% of its workforce systemwide are vaccinated. That does not include people who are fully remote, which Alexander said do not fall under this mandate since they would never be on the campus. About 300 employees have yet to get their shots or confirm their vaccination status.

“While we feel strongly about having everyone vaccinated, we also feel strongly about making sure that each and every team member is treated with respect,” Alexander said. “Especially given what they have, you know, what they’ve done and what they’ve endured for the last 20 months.”

Coupled with that, individuals hospitalized with COVID remain high.

There were 16 COVID inpatients at CMMC as of late Friday morning, he said. Statewide, 211 people were hospitalized due to COVID.

Unvaccinated individuals make up about two-thirds of CMMC’s COVID inpatients, Alexander said.

“Certainly, when you look at those in our ICU, they tend to all be unvaccinated.”

With COVID hospitalizations straining hospitals across the state and a shortage of clinicians and support staff available to staff beds, operations are slowing down from admission to discharge.

“It’s a continuous circuit,” Alexander said. “Because in order for us to admit patients to the hospital, we have to be able to safely discharge them to a location. And in fact, that’s a huge challenge right now,” as long-term care facilities have closed, are short-staffed or have to temporarily turn away new admissions due to a positive case among staff or residents.

He said the hospital works to place patients in a facility of their choice but has been “reaching out to dozens and dozens of facilities now trying to get our patients placed.”

Things are so tight that sometimes the closest open spot is in Massachusetts.

But Alexander maintained that “our team members are incredibly resourceful and they are incredibly resilient” and are working “the best as we can” to maintain services for all patients, especially those who need critical care.

He also said that preventative care is not affected by staffing shortages. MaineHealth, the state’s largest health care system, said in early September it was delaying some elective procedures to make room for COVID patients.

Meanwhile, state health officials Friday reported 738 new cases of COVID-19 in Maine, including 58 in Androscoggin County, 18 in Franklin County and 26 in Oxford County.

There were two additional deaths, a resident of Penobscot County and a resident of Waldo County. Both were men; one is his 70s and the other 80 years or older.

On the vaccination front, nearly 74% of all eligible Mainers were fully vaccinated as of Friday. Eligible residents of the tri-county region of Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties are 67.4%, 62.1% and 63.3% fully vaccinated, respectively.

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