As the necessity for COVID-19 testing will increase, some well being care suppliers are saying Maine lacks sufficient tools

As the need for COVID-19 testing increases, some health care providers are saying Maine lacks enough equipment

As the number of COVID-19 cases in Maine increases and the need for testing increases, some health care providers say the state does not have enough protective equipment to meet demand. It is a challenge that extends nationwide and does not offer an easy solution.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is the masks, eye protection, robes, and gloves that healthcare workers need to protect themselves while testing and treating patients for the new coronavirus. And Darcy Shargo, CEO of the Maine Primary Care Association, which represents the state’s State Qualified Health Centers (FQHC), said there weren’t enough.

What Mainers need to know about the coronavirus

“Every conversation I have is an obstacle. And that applies not just to FQHCs, but to the state across the board. So now, in terms of response, I would say that this is our greatest challenge.”

The lack of adequate supplies of PPE, Shargo said, is affecting the state’s ability to expand testing capacity. She said she recently surveyed health centers to see if they could become test sites for the community if needed. Some said they would like to do something, “but up to a point everyone said we can’t do this today because we don’t have enough N95 masks, face shields, dresses, gloves, etc., etc.”

“This is a challenge in Maine. This is a national challenge right now,” said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control, at a news conference on Monday.

Lack of supply is a global problem caused by increased demand and a disruption in the supply chain as countries grapple with the pandemic. Shah said Maine is doing what it can, including assessing existing stocks across the state and allocating them as needed. On Monday, he said, the state government distributed supplies to 60 health facilities. And he expects additional supplies from the national supply.

“We have been informed that our federal equipment request for additional protective equipment will be met. And the first shipment of that equipment is expected soon. This shipment will include a cache of clothes, gloves, face masks and face shields.”

But President Donald Trump tossed cold water in hopes the federal offer will meet state demand during a conference call with governors on Monday. According to the New York Times, Trump told heads of state, “Respirators, ventilators, all equipment – try it yourself.” A spokeswoman for Governor Janet Mills said she was working to confirm the accuracy of the president’s remarks and to press for federal storage equipment to be released to Maine.

Meanwhile, the immediate impact of limited supply on Maine’s health systems appears to vary by size. John Porter is spokesman for MaineHealth, which includes nine local hospitals.

“We expect enough for the foreseeable future to meet our needs. Emphasis on ‘foreseeable’.”

Porter said MaineHealth could increase its inventory of personal protective equipment before cases of COVID-19 were identified in the state.

“We also have a supply of PPE in every hospital organization as part of our pandemic response planning.”

A spokesman for Northern Light Health, which operates 10 hospitals, said they currently have enough protective equipment to care for patients and protect staff, and carefully manage the use of supplies.

Care has been difficult to manage for Laurie Kane-Lewis of DFD Russell Medical Centers, which operate three state-qualified health centers in Androscoggin and Kennebec counties. Lewis said every week she tried to refill the protective gear and every week it was reordered.

“Even surgical masks are re-ordered at this point.”

Lewis said the DFD Russell Centers’ ability to become a community testing site is being hampered not only by the lack of personal protective equipment, but also by the lack of testing. Maine is supplied by the US CDC, which initially sent a kit with around 1,000 tests.

Lewis said when she asked the state CDC about some of these tests, “They said they could give us 20. That was last Friday, so I can’t post on our website or Facebook page and say we’re a community Test site and say we only have 20 test kits on hand. “

Lewis said her patient base is 10,000.

Darcy Shargo of the Maine Primary Care Association said she thinks the state is doing its best with the current situation. Without a clear end to the device shortage, it underscores the importance Mainers has in making recommendations to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, which include frequent hand washing and social distancing.

Steve Mistler of Maine Public contributed to this report.

Originally published March 16, 2020 at

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