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Virus in New England: Nursing shortage in Maine; concerns over access to vaccine

Coronavirus developments across New England:

MAINE

A shortage of nurses, aides and other staff at nursing homes in Maine that already existed before the pandemic is getting worse.

More than one third of the state's nursing homes reported shortages of both nurses and aides at the beginning of this month, and more than 20% were short on other staff, according to reports filed with federal regulators.

“The situation is dire,” John Orestis, president and CEO of North Country Associates, the state’s largest Maine-based long-term care provider, told the Maine Sunday Telegram.

Rick Erb, president and CEO of the Maine Health Care Association, a professional organization representing more than 200 nursing homes, said the staffing shortage comes as no surprise.

“I think everyone understood staffing to be a challenge before COVID, so it’s not difficult to see how it can go from being a challenge to a crisis very quickly," he said.

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MASSACHUSETTS

Some community leaders are expressing concern over long distances that residents will have to travel to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

In southeastern Massachusetts, more than 50 municipalities are deemed “high risk” for COVID-19 spread, according to data released by the state’s Department of Public Health but there are no local vaccination sites for those residents, MassLive reported.

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell said the city and surrounding communities comprising 250,000 people has no state-run vaccination site.

“My God, why should folks here, where the per capita caseload is higher than the rest of the state, have to drive some 50 minutes to Gillette Stadium? That includes the elderly, who are the most vulnerable and probably the most reluctant to drive. It didn’t make much sense to me.” Mitchell said.

The Department of Public Health said it has a virus command center that makes decisions regarding vaccination sites. The command center didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from MassLive.

On Friday, Gillette Stadium opened in Foxborough as a vaccination site. On Monday it’s expected to expand its vaccination capacity.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE

Board members at a Rye nursing home “cut in line” for a COVID-19 vaccine, according to New Hampshire health officials.

Thomas Argue, CEO at Webster at Rye, said it was his decision to invite board members to participate at the end of the clinic “so every employee could receive their vaccine first.” The board has a fiduciary responsibility to oversee the facility, he said.

The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services criticized the decision.

“The department condemns the facility’s decision to allow its board members to ‘cut in line’ to get the vaccine by prioritizing board members alongside their direct caregivers,” Jake Leon, spokesman for the state health department, in a statement to New Hampshire Public Radio.

The state health department hasn't said whether the state will take any actions against the facility.

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VERMONT

The University of Vermont and other colleges around the state are getting ready for students to return but it will look different than in the fall.

Tents are going up at UVM to create extra space for students to study or eat when they return to campus for classes, which begin Feb. 1.

“It is a lot different from the summer, but also simpler because basically it’s either you have to quarantine at UVM or prior to coming here,” said Gary Derr, UVM’s vice president of operations.

Either way, students will have to complete a two-week quarantine before going to class. Officials also plan to continue that strict regimen with a test for students when they arrive and then once a week for the rest of the semester.

 

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