Gov. Janet Mills’ administration announced Wednesday a new $1.6 million grant program to help expand medical provider training opportunities in rural Maine.

It’s one of several initiatives her office has put toward health care-related COVID-19 recovery efforts under the Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan. They include $4 million for tuition support for health care professionals and $5 million to double enrollment capacity in community college nursing programs.

The Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan was approved by the Legislature in July 2021 and will infuse nearly $1 billion from the federal American Rescue Plan into workforce initiatives.

The medical provider training program will help expand or develop medical residency programs and clinical training programs in underserved areas. It will also offer funding for rural practices to hire qualified clinical supervisors and other supports, such as housing, to expand their clinical rotation programs.

“Maine has unique challenges to safely meet its diverse and complex health care needs, including its oldest-in-the-nation population and large rural areas,” Dr. Jeffrey Barkin, president of the Maine Medical Association, said in the release. “The governor’s plan goes a long way toward building a robust health care workforce with the right clinical training and experience in order to maintain both access to and quality of health care for all Mainers.”

Community health clinics, including Federally Qualified Health Centers are lifelines to primary care in many rural Maine communities that are otherwise underserved. Rural health centers have historically struggled to recruit and retain health care professionals, said Edward Molleo, director of communications and outreach for HealthReach Community Health Centers.


The Waterville-based nonprofit operates 12 Federally Qualified Health Centers in central and western Maine, including Bethel Family Health Center, Mt. Abram Regional Health Center in Kingfield, Rangeley Family Medicine, Strong Area Health Center and Western Maine Family Health Center in Livermore Falls.

HealthReach centers served about 26,000 people from nine counties in 87,500 patient visits in 2021, according to the organization.

“It’s much easier, we’re much more likely to recruit recent graduates than established providers,” Molleo said. “Because our clinics are based rurally, we are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, we know that we just can’t compete with the benefits packages offered by, you know, big urban hospitals and the like.”

HealthReach frequently partners with Maine’s sole graduate medical school at the University of New England to offer clinical rotations for medical students, Molleo said.

In addition to UNE’s partnerships with hospitals and practices statewide, Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston has offered a Maine Track program in collaboration with Maine Medical Center in Portland since 2008. The program sends medical students to Maine for their clinical rotations.

Having medical students on-site allows them to get to know the community, Molleo said.


“It convinces a lot of our providers, you know, this is mission driven. This is serving small, local communities. And once they have that relationship, it’s a very compelling reason to work with us.”

In a survey of more than 140,600 physicians who completed their residency training from 2011 to 2020, the Association of American Medical Colleges found that about 60% of physicians practice medicine in the state where they did their residency.

The association is the accrediting organization for medical schools and teaching hospitals and health systems in the U.S.

Only five states had fewer medical residents or fellows per capita than Maine as of December 2020, according to the AAMC.

Molleo said HealthReach’s president and CEO, Connie Coggins, recently remarked that this is the most competitive hiring market HealthReach has seen in the past 20 years.

“That market was already predicted to get tighter before COVID-19 and all the upset that that caused so, you know, in the face of that challenge, any sort of efforts or programs of this nature are very welcome,” Molleo said.


One of the other major barriers to recruitment HealthReach has had is housing, he said.

“That’s a huge thing that I think needs more attention.” For example, Molleo said they have one temporary physician on staff that HealthReach is paying about $4,000 a month “just to secure housing for them,” which is unsustainable in the long term.

Maine also has one of the oldest health care workforces in the country and HealthReach, like many other health care networks, has lost a significant number of providers, especially as the pandemic forced many into early retirement.

Turnover is extremely disruptive for the centers and their patients, Molleo said, “so it is huge to have, for lack of a better term, a good pipeline established” to bring the next generation of providers to rural Maine.

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