The afternoon sun shines on Maine Medical Center in Portland on Feb. 10, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Good morning from Augusta. There are six days until the Nov. 2 referendum.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “There are all these different tests, and it’s like, I really just want to sell my neighbors pancake mix,” said ​​Cat Morrow, a Kenduskeag resident leading the charge on an ordinance headed to voters next week that would allow small-scale food producers to bypass inspection requirements. Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

The challenges facing Maine’s biggest hospital network are the latest indicator of how stressed the health care system is. MaineHealth has begun asking people to go to their smaller hospitals for treatment instead of Maine Medical Center, the system’s flagship in Portland, to ensure emergency rooms can stay open. For some, that could mean driving further to another hospital, which could delay care that would have previously been more accessible.

The hospital is not quite on diversion — when ambulances are asked to take patients elsewhere because a hospital cannot provide them the care they need — and officials assured the public that trauma patients can still be cared for in Portland. But Andrew Mueller, the CEO of MaineHealth, said the state must come together to make sure more gaps do not develop.

“It means really partnering together with all of our local health systems to ensure that we’re moving patients and getting them to the right areas of care, but we’re certainly going to need more help than just that,” Mueller said.

It is clear that is getting increasingly harder to do. Other MaineHealth officials detailed measures they were taking to provide more urgent care, including suspending some non-emergency procedures at Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast and Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport and treating patients in the hallways at Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick. 

Those measures indicate those hospitals are also stretched thin — and other regional hospital systems clearly are as well. Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston closed its neonatal intensive care unit and suspended trauma admissions. York Hospital has closed its Wells campus to intensive care patients and has sent patients as far as Boston.

The core of MaineHealth’s message to the public yesterday was meant for people unvaccinated against COVID-19, who have been the vast majority of patients hospitalized with the virus. Vaccines could be available to children 5-11 next week, which will slow outbreaks in schools.

Hospital officials cite the effects of workforce shortages, low reimbursement rates and burnout coming at the same time. Gov. Janet Millsvaccine mandate is going into effect on Thursday, but MaineHealth said it was not a major factor in its problems, though it has been a bigger factor in other settings, including the Lewiston hospital.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Another $23M flows into record-setting CMP corridor race in month before election,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “The money that has flown into the race in the past three weeks alone would have been enough to make it the most expensive referendum campaign in Maine’s history. It is also the second-most expensive Maine political race ever, trailing only last year’s U.S. Senate race between Sen. Susan Collins and her unsuccessful Democratic challenger Sara Gideon.”

Maine will try to solve communication, staffing problems in its child welfare system,” David Marino Jr., BDN: “Immediate actions the department will take include improving coordination with behavioral health providers, establishing a protocol for working with hospitals and law enforcement in cases of suspected abuse and supporting parent engagement with the child welfare system.”

— “Conservation groups and feds appeal decision halting seasonal lobstering ban,” Fred Bever, Maine Public: “Earlier this month, a U.S. district court judge granted a temporary injunction against the restrictions after the Maine Lobstering Union and others filed suit claiming that the government used flawed risk assessments.”

Golden endorses in Lewiston mayoral race

The 2nd District congressman weighed in on the nonpartisan mayoral race in his home city Tuesday. In a letter to the editor published in the Sun Journal, Rep. Jared Golden, a Lewiston resident, threw his support behind mayoral candidate Carl Sheline, a businessman who owns a downtown coworking space. Golden, a Democrat, praised Sheline as “a good listener” and someone who would not be interested in political battles at a time where polarization plays a greater role in local politics.

The endorsement is notable in part because it is generally rare for members of Maine’s congressional delegation to weigh in on local, nonpartisan races. Sheline is facing Donna Gillespie in what has so far been a relatively low-key mayoral race compared to past years.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews, Jessica Piper and edited by 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.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.