FARMINGTON — Gov. Janet Mills announced Tuesday that $2.25 million in grant funding will go to expand health care training opportunities with an eye to boosting the workforce in rural Maine.

“Rural Maine is my home. I care deeply about the people who live there, and I want to ensure that they have access to high-quality health care services,” Mills said in a prepared statement.

A group led by MaineHealth, the University of Maine System and St. Joseph’s College in Standish will receive a combined $1.6 million from Mills’ Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan to improve graduate medical education opportunities for physicians, social workers and nurses in rural communities.

Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington will benefit from a $2.25 million in grant announced Tuesday by Gov. Janet Mills to expand health care training opportunities in rural areas of the state, including Franklin County. Morning Sentinel file

Of the $1.6 million, $950,000 will go to the sponsoring institutions of Maine’s four accredited physician training programs – Maine Medical Center in Portland, Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and the Maine-Dartmouth Family Medicine Residency in Augusta – to fund the Maine Rural Graduate Medical Education Collaborative.

Dr. Kalli Varaklis, an OB/GYN and director of Maine Med’s residency program, said that even though each of these programs has substantial experience training physicians, this will be their first collaboration.

“There is good evidence that where somebody does their residency training very much influences where they end up practicing,” Varaklis said. “And so the idea is in a rural state where we have difficulty placing physicians across the state, it makes a lot of sense to increase the number of opportunities for people to train rurally so that they actually end up staying in rural communities,” Varaklis said.


The collaborative will create new curriculums and set standards for clinical supervisors and residents that “really focuses on rural competencies and specifically those in Maine,” she said.

It will also launch an online learning platform where physicians from anywhere in the state can access resources and courses for continuing education.

One major goal of the program is adding four new training sites where residents can do rotations – at Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington, Bridgton Hospital, Blue Hill Hospital and an addiction medicine-specific program at Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway. Four more are planned later.

“In the past, it would have been difficult for a Maine Medical Center resident to go to Blue Hill. Not impossible, but difficult,” Varaklis said. “But now it’s going to be very streamlined.”


The collaborative is also creating a summer internship program for eight medical students to rotate at one the training sites. The program is geared toward students enrolled in a Maine-based program, such as the University of New England or in the Maine Med-Tufts University Maine Track program, or who grew up in rural Maine and attend medical school out of state.


To create a robust network of educators, two faculty members from each of the four sites will be selected for an 18-month, grant-funded course called the Rural Education Leadership Academy.

“Hopefully it’s a kind of workforce development for the whole rural state,” said Dr. Bethany Picker, medical director for Central Maine Medical Center Family Medicine Residency.

Picker said that with CMMC already Central Maine Healthcare’s hub and with a community clinic at Rumford Hospital, Bridgton Hospital was a natural choice for one of the rural training sites.

Bridgton and its surrounding communities have a unique population and health needs. The population is older, and swells significantly in the summer, which Picker said provides opportunities to practice acute care. Residents will also be able to practice addiction medicine in a rural community.

Picker said CMMC has also done faculty development on the diversity, equity and inclusion of both providers and patients and will bring that to the residency programs.

MaineHealth, Northern Light Health, the Maine Hospital Association and other health care networks will also receive a $650,000 grant from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to fund the Building-ME Network, a project to streamline the process for finding rural clinical placements for trainees and clinical supervisors.


Students need teachers and the program will also increase support for clinical supervisors, or preceptors.

“So this grant really allows the growth and development for us to continue to do that. So for a small, rural hospital like Franklin Memorial, it’s completely vital. This type of pipelining effort is what really is going to support our health care workforce for tomorrow,” said Jolene Luce, who is the director of the Western Maine Area Health Education Center and based at Franklin Memorial Hospital.

The work that Luce and other partners are doing will add over 500 additional weeks of training each of the next two years, said Kneka Smith, MaineHealth’s vice president of operations for academic affairs.

The funding will also help expand student housing in areas such as Farmington. Housing is frequently cited as a barrier to trainees and residents who want to work in rural areas.

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