Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. Credit: Courtesy of CBS 13

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If you were experiencing a medical emergency, would you prefer to be treated by an unvaccinated health care worker, or nobody at all?

For weeks, I’ve been warning against the impending consequences of Gov. Janet Mills’ vaccine mandate for health care workers. We’ve known for a long time that such a mandate was likely to produce a certain level of resistance that would result in a significant number of health care workers quitting or being fired. The Biden administration has also instituted vaccine mandates for health care workers and large employers, although this requirement comes with a testing option, something that is missing from the governor’s mandate.

It doesn’t particularly matter whether you feel like those resisting the mandates are selfish conspiracy-mongers, or whether you understand their hesitation. Regardless of your attitude about them, it was very clear very early that these mandates were going to produce major staff problems.

And now we see what that reality is starting to look like.

Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston announced this week that it is suspending pediatric and trauma admissions. This was, in their words, due to “acute nursing staffing shortages in key areas.” The neonatal intensive care unit will also apparently be closed soon.

Initially, the hospital had also decided to suspend cardiac admissions, for patients experiencing heart attacks. Fortunately, less than a day later they were able to review their capacity numbers and were able to lift the suspension on cardiac care. But that they were forced to make that decision at all in the first place is indicative of what level of crisis they are currently feeling.

Patients seeking emergency care at the hospital will be “screened, evaluated appropriately, stabilized and if needed, transferred to another facility that can serve their needs,” according to the announcement.

You don’t have to guess why this is happening. “This action is being taken,” the hospital said, “due to resignations of key staff that exacerbated an already fragile health care workforce.” More than 80 employees throughout the entire Central Maine Healthcare system have resigned, citing the vaccine requirement.

No matter what you think of the people making these decisions, we knew this was going to happen. Maybe you say “good riddance,” but what is happening at Central Maine Medical Center is happening all over the state. Our health care system is now left with fewer workers, less capacity, decreased quality of care and new limitations that could potentially threaten lives as delays and diversions become commonplace.

And anyone with a morsel of common sense knew that this would be the result of Mills’ strict vaccine mandate for healthcare workers.

Mills, for her part, is being stubbornly defiant about the reality she helped to create. “To say that Maine people will die as a result of expanded vaccination is repugnant, dishonest, and an insult to every Maine person who has lost their life to COVID-19,” she said in a statement, inventing a straw man.

No one with any credibility is arguing that people will die from expanded vaccinations, and if there is anything I find “repugnant” and “dishonest,” it is in the suggestion that any serious person is advancing that argument.

I, for instance, have been repeatedly arguing quite the opposite, that vaccines are incredibly important and vital to combat the pandemic. I detailed why I think they are so important, why I got one as soon as I could, and why I thought you should get one too in a column published in these pages five months ago. I’ve reiterated that very firm belief many times since then, including my column from two weeks ago.  

What people like me have been saying — and are now being proven right about — is that vaccine mandates will have a dramatic and dangerous consequence, resulting in people who disagree with them quitting in protest. Understanding that this would happen should’ve been obvious.

“We will do everything within our power to address the serious workforce shortage that our state is confronting,” Mills continued in her statement, apparently oblivious to the irony of saying such a thing after her policy helped make that shortage worse.

Rather than stubbornly clinging to a bad, destructive policy and blaming her Republican rivals for supposedly being irresponsible, Mills should listen to Central Maine Health Care’s president and chief executive officer, Steve Littleson, who are asking the governor to allow alternatives to vaccines for those objecting. Alternatives like a rigorous weekly testing regime.

Such a change is not only wise, but it is necessary. Only time will tell if Mills will let go of her desire to be right, and instead choose to do what is actually right.

Matthew Gagnon, Opinion columnist

Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist...