Northern Light Health system officials say they’re preparing for a challenging winter amid the coronavirus pandemic, and are opening up more COVID-19 care units at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

Dr. James Jarvis, command medical specialist, and Paul Bolin, Northern Light’s senior vice president and chief of human resources, said in a media call Wednesday that the hospital system and its affiliates have the wherewithal to handle even the most severe cases. Jarvis said he does not anticipate a capacity problem at the network’s hospitals, which include Inland Hospital in Waterville and Sebasticook Valley Hospital in Pittsfield, where there is one positive COVID-19 patient.

“I feel that even our smaller hospitals have the knowledge, the capability and the wherewithal and staff to take care of patients with mild, moderate disease and even sometimes severe disease,” Jarvis said. “They know, just like any other medical condition, what their limits are and will refer out if they need to.”

Referrals can go to Bangor’s Eastern Maine Medical Center, which has 27 COVID-19 positive patients, Jarvis said, and across the system 16 patients are in critical care units.

The addition of the two COVID-19 units at EMMC is “in anticipation that the numbers will rise so we are ready to meet the needs of our community,” Jarvis said.

Even as the virus reaches record levels in most parts of the state, Jarvis said Northern Light has not felt the need to create an alternative field hospital in Bangor or Portland.

“Right now, we feel we have the capacity,” Jarvis said.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 228 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, and on Tuesday, the state set records for single day cases and deaths.

For the 9th time in 17 days, the state saw at least 200 new cases. The seven-day average for cases is 217, up from just 40 cases a month ago. COVID-19 has infected 11,027 Mainers and 190 have died since the pandemic began.

In Somerset County, where Sebasticook Valley Hospital is, the number of cases has risen immensely. The entire county had fewer than 50 cases in August, but that number was 425 Wednesday. Although Somerset County is the ninth-largest county in the state by population, it has the third highest death toll with 19 behind more populous Cumberland and York counties.

Somerset County has the fourth highest case rate among 10,000 people (82.4) among Maine’s counties.

Jarvis praised Sebasticook Valley for taking care of their own COVID-19 patients and not having to transfer them.

Kennebec County has counted 736 active cases and 15 deaths due to COVID-19 since the pandemic began. In August, there were just 182.

“I feel very confident in all of our hospitals across our state, and that does not just mean Northern Light hospitals,” Jarvis said. “All hospitals across the state can manage their patients, and if they need services beyond the capability of the local hospital, they know where to go and where to reach out to get that.”

Northern Light Health system officials said they will follow national guidelines for who is vaccinated once vaccines are distrbuted. Any usable vaccine will go through national boards, and Northern Light Health will look internally at the vaccine before using it.

“While all of us have COVID-19 fatigue, this is not the time that we are letting down our guard at all,” Jarvis said. “We are putting in even more stringent visitation at some of our hospitals.”


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