Sen. Susan Collins: Health care workforce shortages are a state issue

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Oct. 16—LEWISTON — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said Friday that it is up to hospitals to "work out with the state government" a solution to the health care worker shortages that have affected all aspects of the state's health care system.

Standing in front of St. Mary's Regional Medical Center on Friday, Collins declined to directly answer whether she supports the requirement that all health care workers must get vaccinated against COVID-19.

"I think it better to leave those decisions at the federal level up to the individual employer to talk with his or her employees and try to convince them of the value of the vaccination," she said.

Friday was the last day health care workers could get the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine and be in compliance with the state COVID-19 vaccination requirement when enforcement starts Oct. 29. The deadline was technically Oct. 1, but Gov. Janet Mills extended the date by four weeks after pushback from some groups who said Oct. 1 did not leave enough time for some workers to get vaccinated.

In a statement following President Joe Biden's announcement of a vaccination requirement for some workers, including those in health care, Collins said the federal government "should not be dictating vaccine mandates and especially should not tie Medicare or Medicaid funding essential to the care of our seniors to vaccine mandates."

On Friday, Collins said that if employers convincing their employees to get vaccinated "doesn't work out," then regular testing could be considered instead.

She said she had heard of the staffing shortages at CMMC and across the state. But, Collins said, "I think that's something for the hospitals to work out with the state government."

Asked what the federal government can do to help, Collins pointed to the Provider Relief Fund, a federal program that awarded eligible health care providers with direct payments, of which she said she's been "one of the strongest supporters."

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services records show that Central Maine Medical Center has so far received $22.14 million in direct payments, and St. Mary's has received $16.22 million.

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