LEWISTON — Central Maine Medical Center has asked the federal government to send an emergency medical response team to aid the hospital as COVID-19 continues to slam central and western Maine.

The announcement came from Gov. Janet Mills’ office Wednesday as part of a broader effort from the state to address the strain on Maine’s hospitals, which also includes the activation of 75 additional Maine National Guard members to provide non-clinical support to health care facilities.

The Mills administration made the request for additional medical personnel on behalf of CMMC and Maine Medical Center in Portland. President Joe Biden announced earlier this month that more than 60 of these rapid response teams would be deployed to health care facilities across the country.

“If approved, teams of federal clinicians, including physicians, nurses and certified nursing assistants, hopefully will be there to supplement existing staff and members of the National Guard to provide care for those with COVID-19,” Mills said at a media briefing Wednesday.

“Any additional resources that can be provided, whether from the state or federal level, during this time when resources are stretched thin for Maine hospitals are greatly appreciated,” Central Maine Healthcare president and CEO Steve Littleson said in a statement.

CMH is the parent company to CMMC and two critical access hospitals, Bridgton Hospital and Rumford Hospital.

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“They will boost the efforts of our hardworking team members who have been heroically caring for our community through the challenges brought on by the current surge and longstanding workforce shortages exacerbated by the pandemic,” Littleson said.

Individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 hit 379 Wednesday, yet another record. The number of individuals in critical care and on ventilators were also all-time highs, with 117 people in an intensive care unit and 60 connected to a ventilator.

“These aren’t just statistics. They’re not merely numbers on a page,” Mills said. “These are fathers and mothers and children, sons and daughters, grandparents, neighbors and friends. They’re fighting for their lives in the critical care wards of our best health care facilities all across the state.”

But as providers across the state care for these patients, other Mainers’ routine, preventative or emergency care are being delayed.

“They’re being denied access to health care,” Mills said. “Most people in hospitals right now with COVID in Maine are not fully vaccinated. Many of them are from the rural areas of the state where vaccination rates are the lowest.”

Central and western Maine counties, including Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford, continue to have the highest positivity rate per capita in the state. These counties also have the lowest vaccination rates in the state.

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And hospitals here are slammed.

While CMMC waits on approval for the rapid response team, providers there are caring for the highest levels of COVID inpatients ever. As of Wednesday, there were 26 individuals hospitalized with COVID and providers there had been caring for an average of 26 patients per day over the past seven days.

The inpatient count has not dropped below 20 individuals for 37 straight days, which includes seven days at the end of November when there were 30 or more people were hospitalized.

On Nov. 26, the day after Thanksgiving, there were 35 COVID patients at CMMC, an all-time high. That broke the record set the day prior, on Thanksgiving Day.

And although CMMC’s intensive care unit is seeing fewer patients than it did during the spring surge, more patients are requiring ventilators than ever before.

Lewiston’s other hospital, St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, also saw record breaking numbers in November and into this month.

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The hospital reported 13 COVID inpatients on Wednesday, four of whom were in the intensive care unit and two on ventilators. Providers there have been caring for about 10 patients per day on average over the past seven days.

Both CMMC’s and St. Mary’s ICUs were full as of Wednesday afternoon, according to spokespeople from the Lewiston hospitals.

“The ICU has 15 patients with a 15-patient capacity,” said CMH spokesperson Jim Cyr. “That said, as always, Central Maine Healthcare will care for anyone who comes to our doors.”

St. Mary’s spokesperson Steve Costello said that while their ICU is maxed out at 10 patients, more beds could be made available with adequate staffing, though that is not a possibility at the moment.

“Staffing continues to be our largest challenge in many areas,” he said. The hospital has not yet considered requesting a federal rapid response team, according to Costello.

While the additional state and federal support will help ease the “bottleneck” that is impacting health care facilities, that alone cannot solve this issue, the governor said in an urgent message to Mainers to get vaccinated.

“I hope the seriousness of these steps, however, will be wake up call about the importance of getting vaccinated, whether it’s your first shot or your third,” Mills said.

“Members of the Maine National Guard will be leaving their families and their communities to join our heroic health care workers in stepping up to meet the challenge of COVID-19. Maine people must all step up to this challenge, too. Get vaccinated, please.”

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