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MaineHealth reports surge in COVID-related absences among its care team members

January 05, 2022

PORTLAND, MaineMaineHealth today said it has seen a sharp increase in recent days in the number of care team members out with COVID-19. The surge is likely caused by the arrival of the highly contagious omicron variant in Maine and New Hampshire, and the result is that 842 members of MaineHealth’s care team of about 22,000 were unable to come in to work as of this morning due to COVID-19. Prior to the Christmas holiday, about 200 people per day were absent across the health system because they had contracted or had been exposed to COVID-19.

The spike in absences comes at a time when the health system is already challenged by near-record numbers of hospitalizations for COVID-19, a high demand as a result of people putting off care earlier in the pandemic and an ongoing labor shortage across the health care industry.

“Keeping our workforce healthy has been critical from the beginning,” said Dr. Doug Sawyer, MD, interim chief medical officer at MaineHealth. “We have been applying the science as fast as we have it. First, with education around social distancing, masking and hand hygiene. Later, with mandatory vaccines and encouraging boosters. And most recently, we’ve updated our care team quarantine procedures based on the best-available science and CDC guidelines to get our people back safely as soon as possible.”

Still, Sawyer said, health care workers at MaineHealth and elsewhere are exhausted, and the overall health care system is under tremendous stress.

“We need help from our community,” he said. “We’ve set up booster vaccine clinics this week at our location on Free Street in Portland and at other facilities across our system. We strongly encourage everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated and boosted.” Information about MaineHealth’s vaccination clinics can be found at https://www.vaccine.mainehealth.org.

Another concern with the surge is people showing up at emergency departments, urgent care centers and walk-in clinics who have tested positive with an at-home antigen test and want further confirmation. Something experts say is unnecessary and could further spread the virus.

“At-home antigen tests are reliable if they're positive and you have symptoms,” said Dora Anne Mills, MD, MaineHealth’s chief health improvement officer. “There is no need to have a confirmatory PCR test before you begin following CDC guidelines for isolation.”

Mills noted that emergency departments, walk-in clinics and urgent care centers should be used for medically appropriate needs. The only time anyone who has tested positive should leave isolation is to seek necessary or emergency medical care. Community members who have tested positive at home should contact their primary care providers to determine if follow-up care is necessary. Anyone showing any of these signs should seek emergency medical care immediately:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face

Community members who need a COVID-19 test should visit https://www.maine.gov/covid19/testing to see a list of COVID testing centers.

The CDC also has published helpful guidance on how to treat mild COVID illness at home.

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About MaineHealth
MaineHealth is a not-for-profit integrated health system whose vision is, “Working together so our communities are the healthiest in America.” It consists of nine local hospital systems, a comprehensive behavioral healthcare network, diagnostic services, home health agencies, and more than 1,500 employed and independent physicians working together through the MaineHealth Medical Group. With approximately 22,000 employees, MaineHealth provides preventive care, diagnosis and treatment to 1.1 million residents in Maine and New Hampshire. It includes Franklin Memorial Hospital/Franklin Community Health Network in Farmington, LincolnHealth in Damariscotta and Boothbay Harbor, Maine Behavioral Healthcare in South Portland, MaineHealth Care at Home in Saco, Maine Medical Center in Portland, Memorial Hospital in North Conway, N.H., Mid Coast-Parkview Health in Brunswick, NorDx in Scarborough, Pen Bay Medical Center and Waldo County General Hospital in Rockport and Belfast, Southern Maine Health Care in Biddeford and Sanford, Spring Harbor Hospital in Westbrook and Stephens Memorial Hospital/Western Maine Health Care in Norway. MaineHealth Affiliates include Maine General Health in Augusta and Waterville, New England Rehabilitation Hospital in Portland and St. Mary's Regional Medical Center in Lewiston. It is also a significant stakeholder in the MaineHealth Accountable Care Organization in Portland.

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