Mills unveils plan to health care staffing shortage

Gov. Janet Mills has rolled out a new plan aimed at addressing a pressing shortage of health care workers in the state.

The plan, which was unveiled Monday, calls for spending about $14 million in pandemic relief funds on recruitment and retainment initiatives aimed at boosting the number of health care workers and improving employment benefits for those already working in the field.

The health care sector is one of Maine’s largest industries, employing thousands of workers, but Mills said “for too long” the system has “had to grapple with a shortage of workers and the pandemic has only made the problem worse.”

“Health care workers have been the backbone of our response to COVID-19,” she said in a statement. “They’ve shown up on the frontlines for more than a year and half to save the lives of Maine people, all while enduring risks to their own health and the added pressure and stress of the job.”

Mills said the plan will “make it easier and more affordable for people, especially young people, to pursue careers in health care and continue to move up the career ladder into higher-paying jobs because they provide tremendous opportunity to do life-saving work and make a good wage with good benefits.”

Under the plan, about $4 million will be devoted to programs that provide financial support, scholarships and student loan relief to students training to become doctors, nurses and behavioral health specialists.

At least $8.5 million will be directed towards tuition forgiveness to provide money and training programs to help workers learn new skills and earn advanced credentials.

The Mills’ administration is also launching a new $1.5 million recruitment effort, with $1 million dedicated to attracting young people to pursue a health care career.

Another $500,000 in funds will be directed to promoting direct care worker jobs, including those who work for the elderly or individuals with disabilities.

Money for the initiatives is coming from the $1 billion Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan, which was funded by the state’s share of American Rescue Plan Act funds.

President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion relief package in March, which provided direct payments to individuals and billions of dollars for states and local governments.

Maine got more than $4.5 billion from the stimulus package, including relief for businesses and direct payments to residents and funding for local governments.

Republicans argue that the state’s health care staffing shortages have been exacerbated by the Mills administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which they say has forced some hospitals to ration services.

In the Maine GOP’s weekly radio address, Rep. Ted Kryzak, R-Acton, said Mills “continues to ignore calls of Maine’s healthcare providers for relief from a policy that is further reducing available healthcare staff is baffling.”

“This is heavy-handed government at its worst,” he said. “This is taking a problem and making it worse by refusing to consider the needs of people on the front lines.”

The vaccine mandate includes health care workers in nursing homes and other long term care facilities, firefighters, emergency medical service organizations and dental workers. Only medical exemptions will be allowed, not religious or philosophical.

Mills has defended the mandate, saying the rules are needed to protect the public and prevent further COVID-19 outbreaks.

Steven Michaud, president of the Maine Hospital Association, said the plan rolled out by the Mills administration “will attract more people to health professions, help retain current workers, and position our hospitals to keep providing high-quality care now and into the future.”

“Our members are experiencing unprecedented hardships and we look forward to continuing our work with the governor and her administration on how to support Maine’s hospitals,” Michaud said in a statement.

This article was originally posted on Mills unveils plan to health care staffing shortage

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