Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor is pictured on Aug. 27, 2021. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Maine’s COVID-19 hospitalization surge has been unevenly distributed across the state, with Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor leading the large hospitals seeing critical care units near capacity over the past week.

Maine tied a record last week for the number of COVID-19 patients requiring critical care, with 71 people in intensive care units according to Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention data, though that number dropped to 69 on Monday.

The surge, which comes despite Maine’s high overall vaccination rate and relatively low COVID-19 infection rate compared to much of the U.S., has raised concerns about hospital capacity as shortages of critical care beds in several states have forced health care providers to send patients out-of-state or make difficult decisions about who to prioritize for care.

Maine hospitals have avoided such choices so far, but have been forced to keep patients in emergency rooms while they await inpatient beds and place adults in pediatric critical care units when no adult beds are available, hospital leaders said last week.

Maine Medical Center in Portland saw an average of 92 percent of intensive care beds in use over the past week, according to data reported to the federal government. Among Maine’s four largest hospitals, only Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston had fewer than 60 percent of its critical care beds unfilled.

COVID-19 cases account for roughly one-fifth of critical care beds currently in use in Maine, but the sudden surge has placed significant stress on hospitals as the delta variant has led to more severe infections among unvaccinated Mainers. The rise in cases has also made it more difficult for hospitals to add critical care beds to meet the increased demand, as exposure to the virus has temporarily sidelined hospital staff.

At EMMC in Bangor, for example, the hospital averaged about 65 staffed adult intensive care beds in the month of January, during Maine’s winter COVID-19 surge, according to federally reported data. But the hospital has averaged having about 60 of such beds over the past two weeks, despite the recent increase in cases.

For the week ending Aug. 26, an average of 95 percent of critical care beds were occupied at EMMC in Bangor. Penobscot County has also been among the Maine regions hit hardest by the virus in recent weeks.

The surge in cases over the past month has also had different effects on inpatient counts at smaller hospitals, many of which do not have intensive care units. Smaller, rural hospitals in Millinocket, Machias, Calais and Dover-Foxcroft, among other towns, saw less than half of their inpatient beds full over the past week. Lincoln Health in Damariscotta and Bridgton Hospital saw the highest occupancy levels among facilities outside major cities, with more than 80 percent of beds filled, the data show.

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