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Maine hospital closes NICU because of staffing shortages due to vaccine mandate

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A hospital in Maine has closed its neonatal intensive care unit because of a staffing shortage due to the state's impending vaccine mandate for health care workers.

Employees at Central Maine Healthcare in Lewiston are required to get vaccinated against COVID-19. In 18 days' time, WGME-TV reports, any health care worker who is not vaccinated faces termination.

Staff resignations in protest of the vaccine policy have forced the hospital to close its NICU, leaving only four other NICUs open in the state.

Additionally, the hospital on Monday announced on its website that pediatric, heart attack, and trauma patients who came to the hospital would be assessed and stabilized, but sent to another facility if they need to be admitted, WMTW-TV reports. But on Tuesday the announcement was removed without explanation, and it is unclear why those hospital admissions were temporarily suspended.

While a majority of the hospital staff is already vaccinated, more than 250 employees have not submitted their vaccination records, WGME-TV reports. Of those 250 health care workers, 170 have roles that put them in direct contact with patients.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills' vaccine mandate went into effect on Oct. 1, but the state will not enforce the rule until Oct. 29, giving hospitals time to create contingency plans should they face staff shortages.

The Lewiston hospital's contingency plan involves cutting intensive care beds by 50% and reducing the number of medical surgical beds by 40%, according to the Bangor Daily News.

Maine Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Jackie Farwell told the paper that the state was in touch with the hospital about staffing issues. She said $146 million has been set aside to assist health care organizations with staffing shortages and that money will be made available at the end of the month.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers are planning to petition the governor to amend her vaccine order to include a testing option for unvaccinated workers, which should help some hospitals retain vaccine-hesitant staff.

After the order went into effect, several Maine hospitals reported workers had left their jobs in protest.

MaineHealth said on Oct. 1 that 69 staffers had resigned. Central Maine Healthcare reported 70 resignations at the time and 500 open positions at the hospital. Another 89 staffers left at Northern Light Health because they would not get vaccinated.

The vaccine mandate isn't just hurting hospitals. Three nursing homes in the state announced plans to close in September as long-term care facilities in the state say they have a "crisis" of staffing shortages.

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