Capacity strain forces Maine health system to reschedule nonemergency procedures

MaineHealth is rescheduling some nonemergency procedures, part of a number of steps the organization is taking in response to the capacity issues, the Portland-based system said Oct. 26.

Nonemergency surgeries are being evaluated day-to-day depending on capacity.

MaineHealth, northern New England's largest health system, said system leaders expect capacity challenges for the region's healthcare industry to persist in the months ahead and attributed much of the challenge to a workforce shortage that has been building. The nine-hospital system noted other factors, too.

"We're still battling, just a really hot pandemic. We're seeing the largest numbers of hospitalized patients since the pandemic began, right now," MaineHealth CEO Andrew Mueller, MD, said in a news release.

Dr. Mueller also said many patients who delayed care are coming to MaineHealth hospitals much sicker, and the ongoing labor shortage is affecting healthcare organizations across the region, making it more challenging to transition patients from the hospital to skilled nursing facilities and to behavioral health facilities.

Other steps MaineHealth is taking in response to capacity issues include:

  • Putting the Maine Medical Center emergency department on frequent "diversion" in recent weeks, meaning that only life-threatening and other critical cases are taken in
  • Forming a work group focused on capacity issues
  • Expansion by the MaineHealth Medical Group of outpatient access
  • Emphasizing supply chain efforts
  • Creating incentives to add workers, including a $61 million market adjustment to pay across the system in August and still higher increases for some hard-to-fill roles
  • Increasing the employee referral bonus
  • Continuing to invest in training programs for critical positions

Maine Gov. Janet Mills unveiled Oct. 25 initiatives to strengthen and expand the state's healthcare workforce.

Dr. Mueller said the initiatives — which include pursuing tuition support programs that will provide financial support to allow more people to become medical professionals — were steps in the right direction, and that he hopes this is a permanent investment in expanding Maine's capacity for training nurses and other healthcare professionals. 

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