Good morning from Augusta.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “After I saw this I remembered a fisherman saying to me, ‘it’s the damn squid.’ He was saying there had been squid all over the place that spring,” said Anne Richards, a fisheries biologist who identified the longfin squid as the possible cause of collapse of Maine’s shrimp fishery nearly a decade ago. Here’s your soundtrack.
What we’re watching today
The disparate effects of Maine’s vaccine mandate for health care workers are coming into view as the deadline approaches. Staff at hospitals, nursing homes and other providers have two more weeks to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to be fully vaccinated by the time Maine starts enforcing the vaccine mandate on Oct. 29. But while providers have been relatively successful in getting their employees vaccinated, others are facing staffing shortages.
Central Maine Healthcare, which runs hospitals in Lewiston, Rumford and Bridgton, is among those with concerns about maintaining staff. Although 86 percent of roughly 2,000 staff are vaccinated, about 300 have not yet received the vaccine, while another 70 have resigned or put in resignations effective before the mandate is enforced. That is on top of the roughly 500 open positions for which the Lewiston-based health care system is currently recruiting.
Not all health care systems may face issues. Across MaineHealth, the state’s largest hospital system, 93 percent of workers are vaccinated, including a greater share of clinical employees. At the Brewer-based Northern Light Health, just 89 of 13,000 workers have quit over the mandate. Millinocket Regional Hospital was the first in Maine to get all workers vaccinated.
The providers affected most by the mandate may reflect familiar geographic inequities. Rural areas, particularly in western Maine, have the lowest vaccination rates. For example, 86 percent of people 16 or older are vaccinated in Cumberland County, according to state data, compared with less than 62 percent in Somerset County.
Health care workers would likely have to get vaccinated eventually regardless of Maine’s mandate, as the federal government is working to leverage Medicare funding for a similar requirement. But any problems will come into focus sooner here as the state’s mandate goes into effect later this month.
The pandemic is making solutions to problems harder to find. The Central Maine Healthcare example drives home the fact that staffing shortages are a problem for hospitals and other providers in Maine. They predate the pandemic, as the state’s aging workforce and lack of training programs have led to few available workers in fields such as nursing, but the virus has led to a wider worker shortage and has exacerbated the issue by itself at times, as health care workers have been forced to quarantine after being exposed to or contracting COVID-19.
For systems already on the edge, the departure of dozens — or potentially hundreds — of workers over mandate is another challenge. The worker shortage is also making it harder for independent pharmacies to join a state COVID-19 testing push in rural areas, with some citing a desire to participate but concerns in keeping patients away from customers.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Fallen Hancock County deputy remembered as humble man with love of life and service in Bangor funeral,” David Marino Jr., Bangor Daily News: “Some of the most heartbreaking moments of the ceremony came when Luke Gross’ family spoke. Some audibly wept as his two children said what they’d miss about their father. Thirteen-year-old Ryan lamented that he wouldn’t get to do everything he had planned to do with his father but praised how Gross had taught him perseverance, positivity and to stand up for himself.”
— “Jared Golden hits Nancy Pelosi for ‘double-dealing’ after delayed vote on $1T infrastructure plan,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “In a Friday morning statement, [U.S. Rep. Jared] Golden said it would be ‘difficult’ for him to take House leaders at their word after the delay, saying they had ‘deeply eroded any credibility or trust they had with me.’”
House leaders said they would resume work on Friday to produce a deal on the larger spending package. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, called Thursday “a day of progress” and the White House signaled that a deal between Democrats to move the bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure package and a larger Democratic-only spending bill was closer than ever. But they still blew the pushed-back Thursday deadline as leaders raced to make a deal with Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, the two Democratic skeptics of the larger bill in the 50-50 upper chamber.
— “Bad things keep happening to Maine man desperate to escape solitary confinement,” Callie Ferguson, BDN: “Last week, Maine State Prison guards pepper-sprayed Zachary Swain less than a day after he returned to isolation following a nearly 3-month stint in the infirmary for swallowing toenail clippers and wire in an attempt to kill himself, his lawyer and mother said. The guards were trying to stop Swain, who is still using a colostomy bag as he recovers from puncturing his colon, from eating a broken-off piece of a cup, according to his mother, who visited with her son on Saturday.”
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper and Michael Shepherd. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.
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