CM – Maine hospitals are reporting increasing vaccination rates, few departures due to mandate


The requirement went into effect on Friday and most healthcare workers must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 29, or they will be laid off.

While activists have protested the Mills government’s mandate to vaccinate health care workers against COVID-19, most in Maine are sticking to it and getting their syringes. And so far, few have stepped down because of the mandate.

Three of Maine’s four major health systems report that 90 percent or more of their employees are now fully vaccinated, based on a poll by the Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram late last week . And the lower likelihood of workers getting sick and missing their jobs has allayed concerns about the loss of workers who refuse to be vaccinated.

One hospital system, Central Maine Healthcare in Lewiston, has a slightly lower rate Vaccination rate and has raised concerns about the potential loss of workers later this month.

Governor Janet Mills’ mandate officially went into effect on Friday. However, hospitals and other health care providers were given until October 29th before the state enforced the mandate as a prerequisite for providers’ medical licenses.

Since it takes two weeks for those taking the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are considered fully vaccinated, workers have until October 15 to receive the J&J vaccination and comply with regulations. The other two vaccines that are approved for use in the US, Pfizer and Moderna, require two-shot treatment three and four weeks apart of the sustained surge in COVID-19 caused by the highly contagious Delta variant. Maine has seen record numbers of cases and hospital admissions in the past few weeks as the Delta variant penetrates unvaccinated populations.

Dr. Lynne Tetreault, a Saco pediatrician, said she supports the mandate and believes vaccination is « part of the job requirements » when people go into the health care sector. In addition to the COVID-19 vaccination, health care workers in Maine must be vaccinated against flu, hepatitis and other communicable diseases.

« It is part of the health care profession to be protected from disease because you are more exposed than you are the general population, « said Tetreault. She said all around 15 employees at her pediatric practice were vaccinated against COVID-19 and had their vaccinations before the mandate was announced in August. “It makes sense to protect yourself, protect patients, protect each other, and all work together to try to end the pandemic.” Emily Nixon, one of the organizers of the Coalition for Healthcare Workers Against Medical Mandates, stands before a special session of the Legislature on Wednesday in the rotunda of the Maine State House in Augusta. Joe Phelan / Kennebec Journal

However, Emily Nixon, a MaineHealth nurse and founder of the Coalition for Healthcare Workers Against Medical Mandates, said she believes the mandate « exacerbates an already dangerous staff shortage in Maine health facilities. » « Forcing any medical procedure under threat of dismissal is coercion, » said Nixon, who organized anti-mandate protests and expects to be fired for refusing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine .

Nixon is among a small minority of health care workers in Maine willing to leave their jobs while on the mandate. Two pending lawsuits seek to overturn the mandate, including one in the U.S. District Court arguing that there should be a religious exception – Maine only allows one medical exception for the vaccine – and another court claiming the mandate is unconstitutional.

At Northern Light Health, 92.9 percent of the workforce is fully vaccinated, said Paul Bolin, senior vice president and chief human resource officer of the system, which includes the Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and Mercy Hospital in Portland are owned.

« We’re making steady progress and we hope that number increases, » said Bolin. « We are working with employees who still have questions or concerns. »

Bolin said there are some employees who are still reluctant because they receive misinformation about the vaccine. So one of the strategies is to have vaccine experts speak to staff to disperse “rumors” about the vaccines. The vaccines are safe, effective, and have been federal approved.

Coalition for Health Workers Against Medical Mandates Protesters hold signs as people walk through the rotunda for a special legislative session on September 29 at the Maine State House in Augusta to start. Joe Phelan / Kennebec Journal

So far, 89 Northern Light employees of 12,500 employees, or less than 1 percent of the total workforce, have resigned because of the mandate.

MaineHealth, the hospital network that includes the Maine Medical Center in Portland and seven owned other hospitals in Maine reports that 94 percent have already completed the contract. Sixty out of 23,000 workers quit, citing the mandate as a reason for leaving.

MaineHealth’s vaccination rate has increased from 84 percent before the mandate was announced in mid-August to 94 percent since last week. Doctors have a vaccination rate of 99 percent in the MaineHealth system.

The Maine General Medical Center in Augusta has a compliance rate of 90.2 percent of its 4,500 employees, and 55 employees have given notice or announced that they will resign during the mandate .

At Central Maine Healthcare, the parent company of Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, 86 percent of the 3,500 employees are currently vaccinated. 70 employees have either already resigned during their mandate or have submitted their resignation.

Health systems and their employees in other parts of the country are faced with similar tasks. And if the experience of those already required to comply with vaccination regulations is an indication of what will happen in Maine, nearly all workers will get their vaccination.

Members of the Coalition for Healthcare Workers Against Medical Mandates sit on the balcony to watch the special session of the Legislature on September 29th at the Maine State House in Augusta. Joe Phelan / Kennebec Journal

At Novant Health in North Carolina, one of the first health systems in the country to go into full mandate, 99 percent of the employees in its 35,000-employee system adhered to it, resulting in 175 layoffs .

Less than 1 percent of United Airlines employees have been laid off for refusing to receive that company’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccine, and Tyson Foods has reported 93 percent of mandate compliance to date. California just announced on Friday that all students 12 years and older and all school staff must be vaccinated against COVID-19 starting next year.

The Biden government requires that all employers with 100 or more employees get vaccinated or get weekly tests; and that the military and much of the federal workforce be vaccinated. The employer mandate has not yet come into effect, but rules for its implementation are expected to be published this fall.

Liz Hamel, Vice President and Director of Public Opinion and Survey Research at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a think tank for national health policy , said mandates are a « mixed bag » in terms of popularity, but mandates acceptance has improved from 61 percent against them in June to a 50 percent rejection now.

« The mandates are not very popular. Half of the workers say they don’t want employers to ask for it, ”said Hamel. « But mandates are a piece of the puzzle that can increase vaccination rates. »

Coalition for Healthcare Workers Against Medical Mandates Protesters hold signs on September 29 as lawmakers head towards the House of Representatives for a special legislative session to begin at the Maine State House in Augusta. Joe Phelan / Kennebec Journal

Aside from increasing mandate adoption, creating more people for syringes will help in the fight against containment. The Pfizer vaccine is expected to be approved for ages 5-11 by Halloween or shortly thereafter, which would make another 100,000 people in Maine eligible for vaccination.

Also public opinion on COVID -19 vaccination in general has shifted in favor since December when the Kaiser Family Foundation first began questioning the issue. Those who say they will « wait and see » have fallen from 39 percent of those surveyed to 7 percent. The percentage of people who say they will reject the vaccine has remained constant at around 12-15 percent, Hamel said.

However, given a mandate, it is unclear what people will do as most employer mandates are still had not come into force, said Hamel. According to the latest survey, 19 percent of workers say their employer has a COVID-19 vaccination mandate.

“Employer to employer There appears to be evidence of mandates, especially in the healthcare sector, where large employers are reducing vaccination rates by introducing them of mandates, ”said Hamel. « We see stories from individual employers that people are sticking to it. »

Maine already has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, 65 percent of the state’s 1.3 million residents are fully vaccinated.

As the However, the health industry is already struggling with a labor shortage, the mandate will make it difficult to maintain a sufficient workforce, said Dr. John Alexander, Chief Medical Officer at Central Maine Healthcare.

« With nearly 300 unvaccinated team members in addition to over 500 positions we are currently recruiting for permanent positions due to labor shortages and pandemic shifts in the labor market. » before a personnel crisis, ”said Alexander. « This will seriously affect our ability to meet all of the needs of the communities we serve when state mandate enforcement begins in late October. » However, MaineHealth officials said the staff hours generated by unvaccinated workers Those who fall ill with COVID-19 are likely to be lost, are likely to be worse than the expected bottlenecks of workers leaving their jobs due to the mandate.

« We do not expect any interruptions to our services due to this policy, » said John Porter, spokesman by MaineHealth. Porter said improved vaccination rates would be « very beneficial » to employees, patients and the community at large, and it was not known whether the vaccination mandate would have a « statistically significant » impact on MaineHealth’s workforce. The system currently has 2,600 openings, Porter said.

Bolin of Northern Light Health said they are working hard to keep staff because « our ability to balance or complement our workforce will be very limited. » p> Nixon said she was being forced out of her job and that « Maine will lose other experienced health care workers because of this mandate. » Live This Virus ”and see its“ devastating day in and day out ”and therefore a mandate is required.

Note: This story was updated on Monday October 5th to correct the percentage of Northern Light employees who quit during the mandate.

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