An ICU nurse monitors a COVID-19 patient at Maine Medical Center in Portland. Image from Maine Medical Center video

Demand for COVID-19 care at eastern Maine’s largest hospital hit its highest level yet last Saturday during a week when the state set records for coronavirus hospitalizations and ICU patients.

Inpatient counts climbed higher at many of the state’s other major hospitals in the week ending Thursday, with Maine Medical Center in Portland seeing its busiest week since late January.

Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, the major hospital for northern and eastern Maine, treated 59 COVID-19 inpatients on Saturday, a record. The week ending Thursday was EMMC’s busiest ever for COVID-19, with an average of 54.6 inpatients treated each day, the most seen during the pandemic at any Maine hospital. The previous record of 51.9 – also at EMMC – was set the week of New Year’s, at the height of the winter surge.

Northern Light Health, EMMC’s parent entity, also had a record week across its 10-hospital network, which is concentrated in eastern Maine, with many smaller hospitals caring for several COVID-19 patients at once as the more contagious delta variant continues to surge across the state.

“EMMC is still quite full, not just with COVID patients but also with other individuals,” Dr. James Jarvis, senior vice president at EMMC and Northern Light’s physician incident commander, said Thursday. “That’s always our concern that if any of our smaller Critical Access Hospitals had a need to send a patient for a higher level of care, would we continue to have the space for that, and that continues to be a concern of ours.”

Jarvis said EMMC has avoided postponing urgent surgeries, though it has delayed some scheduled operations that were likely to tie up intensive care unit beds but didn’t need to take place immediately.

He said the majority of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated, as are 14 of the 15 in EMMC’s intensive care unit. MaineHealth, the state’s largest hospital network, reported that only two of the 25 ICU patients in its system Thursday are fully vaccinated.

Statewide, Maine set a record for both COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU counts Wednesday, at 226 and 88 respectively. Both numbers ticked down slightly Thursday to 221 and 83, but both numbers are still higher than the worst of the winter surge.

Most major hospitals in southern, central and midcoast Maine recorded greater burdens this week than last, though none has soared as high as EMMC’s.

The state’s largest hospital, Maine Medical Center, had an average of 34.7 COVID-19 inpatients treated on a given day for the week ending Thursday, up from last week’s 28.3 but still shy of the peak of 40.9 in mid-January. Northern Light Mercy Hospital in Portland also saw an increase from 6.4 to 7.3 per day.

The increase at MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta was from 9.7 to 12.7 COVID-19 inpatients a day, while at Southern Maine Health Care Medical Center in Biddeford it was 11.1 to 12.

Clinicians have said the geography of the hospitalizations is generally mirroring vaccination levels, and that hospitals are especially full because they are unable to transfer patients to rehabilitation or long-term care facilities, which have faced closures and staffing issues.

Hospitalizations are a lagging indicator in that they typically occur one to three weeks after a person is exposed to the disease. They can end in three ways: recovery, death or transfer to another facility.

The Press Herald compiles data received directly from the hospitals and hospital networks. The data do not include outpatients or inpatients suspected of having the virus but who were never tested.


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