Worker shortage stymies vaccine mandates at nursing homes

BANGOR, Maine — Several Maine healthcare systems and hospitals are mandating COVID-19 vaccines for employees but staffing shortages in many nursing homes may prevent them from following suit.

The Bangor Daily News reports that more than 40 nursing homes want to require staff to be vaccinated but longstanding shortages make them wary of implementing requirements, according to a survey from the Maine Medical Directors Association.

Maine has largely succeeded in vaccinating the nursing home workforce, with its rate sitting now at 71%. That is well ahead of the national average of 59%.

However, the rates are uneven between nursing homes and the conflict between staffing shortages and vaccine mandates could make it difficult to reach 100%.

Over the past week, Northern Light Health and MaineHealth announced vaccine requirements for employees. The requirement applies to facilities including Eastern Maine Medical Center, Mercy Hospital and Maine Medical Center.

Dr. Jabbar Fazeli, who leads the Maine Medical Directors Association, said the survey of nursing homes’ results indicate a desire to mandate vaccines at facilities.

“Clearly the administrators see this as a way out of the crisis, but are struggling with that decision,” he said.

Nursing home staff shortages have long been a problem in Maine, and low wages make it difficult to fill positions. Nursing assistants made $15.71 hourly in 2020, according to state data, a wage comparable to retail workers.

In other pandemic news in Maine:

RN  Maureen Giffin prepares vaccines for residents at Isle au Haut Town Hall on the second day of distribution in Isle au Haut, ME on Feb. 27, 2021.
RN Maureen Giffin prepares vaccines for residents at Isle au Haut Town Hall on the second day of distribution in Isle au Haut, ME on Feb. 27, 2021.
Boston Globe via Getty Images

The numbers

The average number of daily cases of the virus in Maine has doubled over the course of the last two weeks.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Maine has risen over the past two weeks from 50 new cases per day on July 20 to 100.86 new cases per day on Aug. 3.

The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in Maine has fallen, however, going from 2.86 deaths per day on July 20 to 0.14 deaths per day on Aug. 3.

The AP is using data collected by Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering to measure outbreak caseloads and deaths across the United States.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday that the state has been the site of more than 70,000 positive cases of the virus and 900 deaths.

Pharmacist Corinn Martineau prepares vaccines before the opening of a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Scarborough Downs Racetrack.
Pharmacist Corinn Martineau prepares vaccines before the opening of a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Scarborough Downs Racetrack.
Portland Press Herald via Getty

CDC Guidance

The Maine CDC’s guidance about indoor mask use now applies to half of the state.

The agency said last month that it was recommending indoor mask use for everyone in areas of high or substantial transmission of the coronavirus. Those distinctions are made by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Eight of Maine’s 16 counties were listed by the U.S. CDC as having high or substantial transmission on Thursday. Waldo County was listed as having high transmission, and Penobscot, Piscataquis, Somerset, Cumberland, York, Lincoln and Kennebec counties were listed as having substantial.

York and Cumberland counties account for nearly 40% of the state’s population.

The rest of the counties in the state were listed as having low or moderate transmission.