Northern Light Health Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, Maine. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

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Many Maine hospitals have more critical care beds and ventilators available right now than before the coronavirus pandemic began, positioning medical providers to be able to handle an increase in critically ill patients if a surge occurs, a top hospital administrator said Wednesday.

“Our utilization of both our critical care beds and our ventilators across the state is actually down compared to normal simply because we’re not seeing those elective cases that often require ventilatory support,” said James Jarvis, incident commander for Northern Light Health. As the state’s second largest health care system, it runs 10 hospitals from Portland to Presque Isle.

[Our COVID-19 tracker contains the most recent information on Maine cases by county]

On Wednesday, less than half of Maine’s 314 critical care beds were occupied, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (Of those that were in use, the vast majority were filled with patients who had not been diagnosed with COVID-19.)

In comparison, critical care occupancy rates across the nation have traditionally stood around 65 to 68 percent, according to a 2016 study. Larger hospitals tend to see more use of critical care beds.

In Maine, only 9 percent of all available ventilators were in use on Wednesday.

Northern Light Health isn’t the only health care system to see increased critical care capacity. The overall number of critical care beds and ventilators in Maine is higher now than it was at the time of the first confirmed case of COVID-19, said Robert Long, a spokesperson for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hospitals were not reporting information about ventilators and critical care beds to the Maine CDC before the pandemic.

Jarvis did not provide specific critical care bed occupancy rates for Northern Light Health or share the number of available ventilators within the health care system. But limiting medical procedures has had a substantial effect, he said.

“That was done on purpose for us to be prepared in case we did see large numbers of individuals with COVID-19,” Jarvis said. “Across the state I think we are very well situated.”

Coronavirus hospitalizations in Maine have also slowed over the past week. Public health officials have continued to urge people to maintain social distancing.

In addition to having open critical care beds and ventilators, Northern Light Health facilities also have enough personal protective gear, Jarvis said.

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On a statewide level, Maine had nearly 180,000 tight-fitting N95 masks available in its inventory on Wednesday, and about 14,000 were being shipped out to health care organizations that day, said Nirav Shah, the director of the Maine CDC. Providers are getting the masks as they need them.

“We are not in the process of stockpiling,” Shah said.

Northern Light’s use of protective gear has been “small because our number of actual positive patients at Northern Light facilities has been relatively small,” Jarvis said. “In fact we’ve expanded the usage of some of our personal protective equipment based on information from the CDC and our own internal calculations.”

Northern Light Health providers had 11 patients with COVID-19 as of Wednesday, he said. Six were being cared for by home care and hospice agencies; they were not admitted to a hospital and were being cared for at home.

Watch: What is an N95 face mask?

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Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda is editor of Maine Focus, a journalism and community engagement initiative by the Bangor Daily News.