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Northern Light Health moves five hospitals to contingency staffing plans

Gabor Degre
Bangor Daily News

Northern Light Health has moved five hospitals to contingency staffing plans amidst a surge in patients and a record number of employees who are absent from work because they've tested positive for COVID-19 or are awaiting test results.

Senior vice president Paul Bolin says 600 employees are currently unable to report to work. That's roughly 180 more than a week ago. Bolin says Maine Coast Memorial, CA Dean, Inland, Sebasticook, and Mayo hospitals are all operating at contingency staffing, and it's unclear whether that list will grow.

"I think it truly is, at this point, day by day, looking at the current needs and the current impacts on staff," Bolin says.

Under contingency staffing, the quarantine period for staff is reduced to five days. Northern Light also requires a negative test of asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic staff, which is stricter than CDC guidance.

Further, Maine has a shortage of monoclonal antibodies used to prevent COVID-positive patients from becoming severely ill. Matt Marston, vice president of pharmacy for Northern Light Health, says federal shipments of monoclonal are a fraction of what they used to be. Until recently, he says, the health system had been providing more than 250 doses per week.

"To put that in perspective, the state has received close to that amount for the state in the most recent shipment," Marston says.

During the shortage, Marston says Northern Light Health is using all available options to treat patients with other drugs that are more readily available, such as Remdesivir. The antiviral medication has been used to treat critically ill patients in hospitals, but Marston says recent evidence shows the drug has similar effectiveness to monoclonal antibodies when used in outpatient settings.