As COVID-19-related hospitalizations among the state’s unvaccinated population continue to rise in Maine, the state’s largest healthcare system is postponing some elective surgeries to maintain room for them. pandemic patients and prioritize those most in need of hospital stay.
“We don’t call it a shutdown, but it’s a recall,” said Dr. Joan Boomsma, chief medical officer of MaineHealth, the parent company of Maine Medical Center in Portland, Tuesday. “Maine Med reduced surgeries by 30% last week, and all of our hospitals are reducing surgeries that require hospitalization after surgery.”
COVID-19-related hospitalizations have skyrocketed over the past month, from 49 statewide on August 7 to 183 on Tuesday, according to Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those currently hospitalized, 68 are in intensive care and 29 on ventilators. Only 43 of the state’s 326 intensive care beds were available on Tuesday, according to statistics from the Maine CDC.
The outbreak follows a spike in cases as the delta variant pushes Maine’s rate of new cases to New England’s highest.
According to state statistics, about four in five patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are not vaccinated.
Boomsma said the squeeze in hospital capacity for non-COVID patients is similar to what Maine Med experienced during the pandemic’s previous peak in mid-January. It was also the last time Maine had 183 COVID patients in state hospitals.
The number of new cases also continues to rise in Maine, and with the hospitalizations that follow the cases, it may be months before hospital capacity slackens enough for these procedures to resume.
“We don’t have the end of when we can resume normal capacity in sight,” Boomsma said.
The number of cases in Maine is now the worst in New England with an average of 28.6 new cases per 100,000 population in the last seven-day benchmark, according to the Harvard Global Health Institute. The national average is 40 cases per 100,000, while hard-hit states like South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama and West Virginia have more than 80 cases per 100,000.
No new number of cases were reported by the state on Tuesday due to the holiday Monday. On Wednesday, the Maine CDC will release four days of results and an updated seven-day average.
Measures to save hospital capacity for COVID patients are reminiscent of the early days of the pandemic. Hospital systems were closed for all but the most urgent surgeries in the first months of 2020, but resumed later that spring.
MaineHealth is the parent company of seven other hospitals in addition to Maine Med, including Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport, Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington, and Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick.
Boomsma said some examples of postponed surgeries include hip and knee replacements, some back surgeries, elective abdominal or head and neck surgeries. She said some colonoscopies were also being delayed to free up staff to take care of COVID-19 patients.
She said these are surgeries that can be safely postponed, although they can affect patients’ quality of life while they wait.
Andrew Soucier, spokesperson for Northern Light Health, the parent company of Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and Mercy Hospital in Portland, made no announcements Tuesday on patient care during COVID-19.
“We will continue to assess the situation as things change,” Soucier said.
A two-minute video produced by the Maine Medical Center posted to social media over the weekend described the dire conditions inside the hospital where COVID-19 patients are being treated. Patients are now mostly unvaccinated and are often much younger than at the start of the pandemic, when largely older people were hospitalized.
Kimberly Matheson, a nurse who works with COVID-19 patients, said in the video that “we come to work every day and we know it will be a tough day.”
“I’m just worried about what the day will bring. What’s going to happen, who’s going to die, ”Matheson said.
George Gadbois, a patient from South Portland, said in the hospital video that “you never want to get this disease. It’s the worst feeling you can have “and that he’s considering” getting the vaccine when they tell me. “
Matheson said some patients say, “I wish I had been vaccinated. And then they are intubated (put on a ventilator). Some of these people are living. Some of them don’t.
In a briefing on Aug. 26, hospital executives from four hospital systems in Maine pleaded with the public to get vaccinated to avoid further hospitalizations.
Although Maine has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, the most contagious delta variant sweeps through the unvaccinated population.
While 72% of Maine’s population eligible for the vaccine have been immunized, there are still over 300,000 unvaccinated Mainers who have easy access to free vaccines. Those under 12 are not yet eligible for the vaccine, but the Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve the vaccine for younger age groups later this year or early next year.
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