Central Maine Healthcare has 152 beds across its three hospitals in Lewiston, Bridgton and Rumford. But not a single one was open on Tuesday afternoon.
Maine has blown past its own record for COVID-19 hospitalizations several times in the past week, with a record 298 patients reported by Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah on Tuesday. That number peaked at 207 during last winter’s surge.
It is driving some Maine’s hospitals to their COVID-19 pandemic peaks for total patients. While most people hospitalized do not have COVID-19, they combine with record virus hospitalizations and worker shortages to create a dire situation that experts fear could get worse as the holidays approach and cold weather sets in, driving more people to gather inside.
As with all 116 of its beds, all 17 critical-care beds at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston were full on Tuesday, spokesperson Jim Cyr said. There were no beds available at the system’s other two hospitals, though Cyr noted the system continues to treat all who come in. The flagship hospital was treating 22 COVID-19 patients on Sunday, with nine in intensive care.
At Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine’s largest hospital, there were 37 coronavirus patients on Tuesday and 93 across the affiliated MaineHealth system, including Memorial Hospital in North Conway, New Hampshire. Those are the most COVID-19 hospitalizations since the pandemic began, said Dr. Dora Mills, MaineHealth’s chief health improvement officer.
But along with the rise in coronavirus patients, an increasing number of Mainers are also being hospitalized for other health factors. It appeared to be the result of care delayed due to the pandemic, Mills said, but as it continued into the fall, it became clear that unhealthy behavioral changes brought by the pandemic were playing a significant role.
People have gained weight and drank alcohol more during the pandemic. Cigarette sales increased for the first time in 20 years. Increasing numbers of patients are also being treated for drug overdoses, heart disease and psychiatric issues, Mills said.
Mills compared it to the indirect health effects observed from crises like Hurricane Katrina, referred to COVID-19 hospitalizations, new hospitalizations indirectly resulting from the pandemic and staffing shortages that have slammed the health care sector — including nursing homes that help get patients out of hospitals — as three crises facing the health care system.
“I know there’s a big focus on over 296 hospitalizations due to COVID,” Mills said. “That is the tip of the iceberg.”
Like other hospitals in Maine, Maine Medical Center has increasingly been required to treat patients in hallways. At Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, 380 out of 411 in-patient beds were occupied on Monday, spokesperson Tricia Denham said. She noted that the numbers were a snapshot and that it was rare for the hospital to use all 411 beds at once due to private room accommodations.
A total of 54 out of 58 ICU beds were being used, with four off-limits “to ensure our staff can meet the acuity needs of our patients,” Denham said. The 380 in-patients was high for the hospital, but not the peak since the beginning of the pandemic, Denham said.
At MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta, 185 of 198 in-patient beds were taken on Monday, said hospital spokesperson Joy McKenna. All 16 of the hospital’s critical care beds were full, she said. The hospital has a surge plan in place if it continues to see an increase in COVID-19 patients, McKenna said.
While medical staff hope for the best, they fear for the worst in the aftermath of the tens of thousands of gatherings that will take place in Maine during Thanksgiving, along with the results of Mainers traveling out-of-state for the holiday.
Both ICU and total hospital bed statistics are important, as they likely show the different ways this pandemic is affecting hospitals, Maine Hospital Association President Steven Michaud said. But he noted that the system is most at risk of running out of critical-care beds.
Data released by Northern Light Health from hospitalizations across its system on Nov. 10 appear to confirm his suspicion: there were 30 COVID-19 patients in their hospital system who were not in the ICU and 16 who were. While unvaccinated people made up 43 percent of non-ICU patients, they were 69 percent of those receiving intensive care.
“With the holiday season now upon us, we are asking all Maine people to take steps to stay healthy, and in regards to COVID, to please get vaccinated,” said McKenna, of MaineGeneral.