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Feds to release $129 million for Maine hospitals and medical facilities

Bradley Mattes
Robert F. Bukaty
Bradley Mattes, associate nurse leader at Central Maine Medical Center, questions patients at the emergency entrance to the hospital, Friday, March 13, 2020, in Lewiston, Maine. "I refer to myself as the Walmart greeter of nurses," said Mattes, who questions patients to determine if their symptoms indicate the need for testing for the coronavirus or other medical attention.

Maine hospitals, nursing homes and medical practices are slated to receive nearly $130 million in federal assistance as part of $7.5 billion being distributed nationwide to help rural medical providers weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Biden administration announced Tuesday that 314 hospitals, medical practices and long-term care facilities in Maine will receive payments through the American Rescue Plan stimulus bill passed by Congress in March. Payments range from $500 to small physician and dental offices to more than $40 million to MaineHealth, which owns Maine Medical Center in Portland and eight other hospitals. MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta is earmarked to receive the second-largest amount, or $21 million, but hospitals throughout Maine will be receiving six-figure relief payments through the program.

To be eligible, medical providers must serve rural patients that are enrolled in Medicaid, Medicare or the Children's Health Insurance Program. And offices can use the money for salaries, staff recruitment or retention, personal protective equipment, upgrades to building ventilation and filtration systems, or other COVID-related expenses. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the first wave of payments will begin in the next several weeks, although more complicated applications for funding could take longer to process.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire had raised concerns about the slow pace of payments in an August letter that was signed by nearly 40 of their colleagues. At the time, some Maine nursing homes were preparing to close their doors and the pandemic was exacerbating financial challenges for many rural hospitals.

“Over the course of the pandemic, numerous Maine health care providers – particularly in rural areas – have told me about the difficulty and expense of paying for additional staff, along with COVID-related facility improvements, personal protective equipment, and other financial challenges,” Collins said in a statement on Tuesday. “I have also heard from patients of long-term care facilities and their families who have been displaced or fear they may have to move due to nursing home closures.”

Collins called the funding “a lifeline for hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living centers and physician practices across the country.” The senator said she hopes the additional funding will help prevent future closures while protecting patients’ access to health care.