MDI Hospital battles health care giants to ensure its place in line for vaccines

SOMESVILLE, Jan. 15, 2021 – An informal group of stakeholders concerned that MDI may be marginalized in the helter skelter distribution of Covid-19 vaccines met Friday to strategize how to get leverage with the Mills Administration.

MDI Hospital CEO Chrissi Maguire said representatives from MDI towns, hospital officials and State Sen. Louis Luchini huddled to plot the best way to ensure MDI residents have their rightful place in line to receive the vaccine. Luchini supported the recent change by the state to cast the net wider than the previous 75 and over demographic to be included in the 1B tier.

Overnight the hospital redesigned its website to enable a public service campaign so MDI residents may pre-register. https://www.mdihospital.org/covid-19-vaccine/ The task force hopes building such a data base will garner attention from the Mills Administration which seems to focus first on southern population centers such as Portland, Augusta and Lewiston.

Maguire was clearly concerned with the prospect that MDI and other parts of rural Maine would be marginalized without the power of influence expressed by big hospital chains in southern Maine. “They forgot an entire major hospital,” she said of the state’s rollout as an example of the sloppy execution.

The Portland Press Herald reported Friday that big health care chains in southern Maine are gaining traction to win the lion’s share of vaccinations:

“Maine’s COVID-19 mass vaccination program for those 70 and older is getting closer to launching, with a major health network sending out notices to patients Thursday that immunizations would begin within two weeks.”

The PR machines of the big hospital chains are at full speed.

“We expect to have shots in arms of people 70 and older by the end of the month,” said John Porter, a spokesman for MaineHealth. MaineHealth is the parent company of Maine Medical Center in Portland and operates an extensive network of primary care practices throughout much of the state, especially southern Maine. An email from Dr. Joan Boomsma, chief medical officer for MaineHealth, told patients that vaccine appointments were coming soon.

While not quite ready, MaineHealth soon will be setting up a call center for patients 70 and older to schedule appointments, and is working with the state on online scheduling, Porter said. Appointments will be taken on a first-come, first-served basis for those 70 and older whose doctors are part of the MaineHealth network.

Maguire said in addition to battling for share of the vaccines, there are logistical hurdles such as where to hold patients for 15-minute observations after each shot. MDI Hospital does not have the capacity for such a holding pen.

All this has to be worked out to convince the state that MDI is poised to administer the vaccine in abundance.

The challenge is for a small, independent hospital like MDI to demonstrate it can efficiently execute a vaccination plan with the same efficiency as MaineHealth. When it comes to health care, scale matters.

MDI residents may help themselves by pre-registering on the hospital web site published above.

Lastly, it doesn’t hurt to email the governor’s office directly to voice your support for MDI Hospital’s efforts. https://www.maine.gov/governor/mills/contact/share-your-opinion

MDI still extremely safe despite recent surges

The hospital reported another five new cases this week but four were related to one of the two holiday gatherings which spiked the numbers after Christmas. One new case was of someone who traveled away and came back and tested positive, Maguire said. “MDI is still extremely safe,” she said. But no one knows how safe we will be when the new strain of more contagious virus arrives.

Here is the latest report on the hospital website https://www.mdihospital.org/covid-19/

February hearings set for new rules regarding Right Whale entanglement

SOMESVILLE, Jan 16, 2021 – Four hearings have been scheduled in February to air public comments on a set of new rules issued by the federal government to reduce deaths of North Atlantic Right Whales caused by ship strikes and fishing gear entanglement. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/events? A federal judge has given the government until May 31 to come into compliance with the Endangered Species Act. He ruled last April that the government failed to protect the whales with its current rules.

The new rules, which environmentalists have already said are not adequate, were issued on the last day of 2020 by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the agency which regulates fisheries. They include:

  • Introducing state-specific colors to mark gear so to trace origin of ropes by state
  • Increasing the number of and area of marked lines
  • Modifying gear configurations to reduce the number of vertical buoy lines by requiring more traps between buoy lines and by introducing weak insertions or weak rope into buoy lines to allow whales to break away
  • Increasing seasonal restricted fishing areas (but allow ropeless fishing)
  • Add up to two new seasonal buoy line closures

In the following map, fishermen in the red zone near the coast will be required to set three traps per line as opposed to the current two, according to the new rules. The number of traps increases the farther out.

In addition to the increased traps per rope, the new rules propose closing some areas but exempting “ropeless” traps. The rectangular area in yellow southwest of MDI would have those restrictions. All the rules may be viewed here: https://media.fisheries.noaa.gov/2021-01/TRTFactSheetRev011221.pdf?null


Feds Sued to Force Them to Protect Endangered North Atlantic Right Whales From Vessel Strikes

In addition to the hearings, conservation groups are sumultaneously suing the federal government for failing to respond to two emergency requests to protect right whales from being killed by ships and boats in U.S. waters. The groups are calling for more speed limits to reduce the number of vessel strikes.  “Just over half of known or suspected right whale deaths since 2017 have been attributed to vessel strikes, closely followed by entanglements in fishing gear. In just the past year, two of only 10 baby right whales born to the species were killed by vessel strikes off the coasts of Florida and New Jersey,” the conservationist said.

Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Defenders of Wildlife, Conservation Law Foundation and the Center for Biological Diversity filed the lawsuit in Washington, D.C. this week. The groups filed a request for emergency action in June 2012 and another in August 2020 after the second fatal right whale-vessel collision in six months. 

The federal marine fisheries agency has not responded to either petition. The petitions ask the Fisheries Service to expand the areas and times when its existing 10-knot speed-limit rule applies, to make all voluntary vessel-speed restrictions mandatory, and to apply the rule to small vessels (shorter than 65 feet) as well as large ones to avoid collisions that kill and injure right whales.
“We need to have slowdowns in right whale danger zones just like we have lower speed limits near schools,” said Jane Davenport, a senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “Last year, boat strikes killed a newborn and a six-month-old. Each of these tragic deaths robs the mother of her baby and the species of its future. It’s past time for the Fisheries Service to act on these common-sense speed limits.” 
North Atlantic right whales are among the world’s most imperiled marine mammals, with only about 360 animals alive today. Thirty-two right whales have been found dead since 2017, and the Fisheries Service believes at least another 13 have died, or will die, from existing injuries. The agency estimates the actual number of deaths each year is likely much higher, since most dead whales sink. 

The groups filed the lawsuit under the Administrative Procedure Act. The agency has 60 days to respond.

Meanwhile, NOAA is proceeding to meet the May 31 deadline imposed by U.S District Court Judge James E. Boasberg. It’s a tall order. It must aggregate all public comments, conduct an environmental impact study, revise its proposed rules if needed and complete the process by the end of May. If it doesn’t impose stricter rules, it’s likely to face requests from the conservationists for the judge to impose them.

A fresh look at taxpayer-supported services in SWH during a pandemic

SOMESVILLE, Jan 15, 2021 – Poor Ruth Davis. The owner of Quilt N’ Fabric walked into a buzzsaw at the Southwest Harbor selectmen’s Zoom hearing this week.

She was there with her tin cup as president of the 122-member Southwest Harbor/Tremont Chamber of Commerce seeking a grant of $6,000 to pay the chamber’s rent for its visitor center rent the Harbor House. But two plain-speaking members of the select board minced no words.

“The visitors center is hugely valuable. I think it’s really important the service continues. I don’t think it should be at taxpayers’ expense,” said Kristin Hutchins, selectmen chair.

Selectman Chad Terry added that if the chamber just asked $5 a month from each of its members, “then you’d have your six thousand”.

“Sorry, I’m with Kristin. I don’t think the taxpayer ought to fund a private .. a member-based business that only supports its members. Yes it does do things for the town but I don’t feel all taxpayers benefit from it.”

Davis, who is also on the warrant committee, said, “All taxpayers do get something out of it … I talk to the real estate people – because I’m concerned about this. A lot of the new properties and old properties that have been bought are over a million dollars a piece one of which is a commercial property in the center. They’re going to pay big bucks to the town when they are assessed at their full value.”

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Warrant Committee member Ellen Pope said, “If there’s ever a year to be flexible, especially as Ruth said this is probably not a recurring request, I would think this is the year. Anybody who walks through downtown can see that businesses are struggling.”

But Terry, owner of GT Outhouses and not a chamber member, added, “And it’s probably the year that our municipal sharing funds from the state are probably going to be slashed so therefore we’re going to have to require more from the taxpayer …”

Former Selectmen Lydia Goetze, who is on the warrant committee, and Selectman George Jellison favored the town rejoining the chamber as a paying member at $500 a year rather than giving it a grant under the “community service umbrella.” SWH is the only town on MDI that does not belong to its chamber.

Another new request before the board was for $5,000 from the Common Good Soup Kitchen, located in the center of the town. The town already supports two food pantries, including the Bar Harbor Food Pantry.

SWH taxpayers pay about $250,000 a year for charities and community services that benefit residents. The biggest check – $60,000 – goes to the library. Maine is among the few states with an unusual model where private donations constitute the lion’s share of library budgets, owing to the fact that many libraries in Colonial times were started before the municipalities. Towns in Connecticut, where QSJ lived for 34 years, routinely get 75 percent of their budgets paid by taxpayers.

The following is a list of organizations supported by the town in the current fiscal year:

Bar Harbor Food Pantry $2,500
Downeast Health/WIC $1,035
Downeast Horizons/health $1,800
Eastern Area on Aging $1,500
Northern Light Home Care $1,870
Hospice of Hancock Count $1,000
Island Connections $2,500
Island Explorer Bus Service $10,000
MDI Community Campfire $3,000
Mt Height Cemetery $9,200
Westside Food Pantry $2,500
Downeast Community Partners $3,574
Harbor House $59,640
SWH Public Library $60,000
SWH/Tremont Nursing $ 11,000
Mt Desert Nursing Assoc $2,000
SW Harbor Historical Society – $2,500
Island Housing Trust $2,500

TOTAL $249,501

Climate change is an existential crisis in lifetime of MDI students

MOUNT DESERT, Maine – It is the year 2100. Bass Harbor is an island to itself, having been cut off from the rest of MDI by rising waters. The entire Fresh Meadow area in the northern part of the island is a cove the size of Echo Lake. Much of MDI’s marshes has disappeared.

Grace Munger, now Age 97, still remembers her first encounter with global warming when she was 14 (See photo). Folks on MDI were gobbling up room air conditioners. Never had there been such a need, But the summer heat of 2018 was not only scorching but prolonged.

“We tried to warn them,” she said.

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When she turned 16, she joined other spirited classmates to assist the Bar Harbor Climate Emergency Task Force. They were mentored by Ruth Poland, an environmental scientists who taught an AP course on the subject at the high school. Their work caught the attention of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which funded a gap year for the team so they may advance their cause.

In short they were the modern day Champlain Society, the Harvard students who came to MDI during summers in the 19th century to study plant and animal species, ecology, marine life and climate. They were the precursor to the preservation movement.

Ruth Poland went on to become the head of the EPA in the second Kamala Harris administration. But despite her efforts, the country was still buffeted by those who would not accept that global warming was man-made.

But her class back in 2020 would have none of that denial. They first presented to the Bar Harbor Town Council. Their presentation was divided into six core themes: Sea Level Rise, Storm Intensity, Ocean Acidification, Heat & Warming Oceans, Species Movements and Agriculture. The local paper, Mount Desert Islander, reported:

“On behalf of the high school science class, (Sam) Mitchell suggested that Bar Harbor convert all energy uses to electricity by passing a solar ordinance, approve solar energy production in Salisbury Cove, modernize the electric grid and replace old town vehicles with electric vehicles.”

The town council was so inspired that it moved later that year to ban cruise ships, one of the worst polluters on the planet.

After the council presentation the students took their show on the road and presented to citizens in public forums.

In front of members and guests of A Climate To Thrive, senior Cate Pope told of an extreme case of earth’s average temperature of a 9-degree increase by 2100. In fact, it exceeded that by another 2 degrees.

Jane Pope explained the earth’s feedback loop which traps warm air inside its atmosphere. “If it reaches a point of no return … that would be very bad.”

Munger was only a junior then and when her turn came up, said that an estimated 3.3–8.2 feet of global sea level rise from ice melting and thermal expansion was expected to occur by 2100. She said that the sea level rise predictions are locally higher than the global scenario, where Bar Harbor would see 4-10 feet of rise. 

“With only a 3.3–foot sea level rise, it will cost Bar Harbor $360,000 to repair roads alone and six addresses will be inaccessible to emergency services.”With 6 feet of sea level rise, it will cost Bar Harbor $3,000,000 to repair roads and 750 addresses will be inaccessible to emergency services.”

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Sam Mitchell (photo) reported that the escalating temperatures have warmed the Gulf of Maine seven times faster than the rest of the ocean in the last 15 years. The high temperatures were demonstrated by the class to negatively affect Bar Harbor’s marine life. 

Isabella Michael, who was one of five summer climate change interns with A Climate To Thrive, stressed the importance of the world working to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming to avoid runaway climate change; a breaking point in the climate threshold that, when exceeded, can lead to large changes in the state of the system. 

Munger was able to find in her archives a link to the ancient technology used by humans back then called the internet: https://www.aclimatetothrive.org/gulf-of-maines-climate-emergency

Munger also managed to stay in touch with some of her classmates.

Isabella Michael joined the Air Force and became a pilot. She was among the crew of astronauts who landed on Mars in 2042. Their mission was to explore alternative living environments as earth became more inhospitable.

Elaina Cote graduated from Colby College, Yale Law School and became secretary of the Interior.

Cate Pope attended Bates College and University of Maine graduate school and became a marine biologist. She created the non-profit Deep Oceans which operated a 300-foot marine research vessel in the Arctic.

Grace Munger graduated from University of Maine and Stanford Business School. She patented a ropeless technology for fishing and went to found and run her own global company. Her foundation has given away $3.4 billion to marine research. She was credited with saving the North Atlantic Right Whale from extinction.

But it was her formative years as a high school activist that she remembers so well. And she still has the original presentation her class made in paper in her private library. https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/15rvGZjHhp9ILDHlvjesfIBtanjULz1jKjMFf6NOk1zw/edit#slide=id.p

‘Zoombombing’ may be coming to a public meeting near you; how towns must protect against online vandalism

SOMESVILLE, Jan. 15, 2020 – The change of demeanor on Lawson Wulsin’s face was undeniable and drastic. The mood suddenly went from celebratory to panic. As he prepared to introduce the MDI high school students who would present their findings on climate change to an eager audience on Zoom, a racial slur appeared on the screen.

Wulsin told the group to hold fast while he attended to the problem. It lasted only minutes but it clearly disrupted the flow.

Nonetheless the culprit was removed and the session by the A Climate To Thrive was flawless from that point on.

ACTT had just been “Zoombombed” or as Wikipedia calls it “zoom raided.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoombombing

Several days later, Wulsin sent out this statement:

“Dear Attendee,

On January 8, at the beginning of our educational event, “The Gulf of Maine Climate Emergency,” an individual vandalized the presenter’s screen.  A single word of racist hate speech was visible to all attendees for ten seconds before we ended the screen share and removed the individual from the meeting. A few minutes earlier, when only a portion of attendees had arrived, a separate individual wrote a racist comment in the public chat.

I want to acknowledge the harm experienced by our community and validate the wide range of emotions and reactions that you may be feeling. We have reported the incident to the school district, the local police, and to Zoom and are exploring strategies for how to reduce the risk of future security breaches.

Let me be very clear: demonstrations of hate and racism are not welcome and will not be tolerated at any ACTT events.

Our work depends on trust, respect, and compassion. As we deepen our connections to each other and our planet, it is imperative that the spaces in which we gather are safe. On Friday, that safety was violated. I commend the students for the courage and strength they demonstrated by presenting a compelling program after the disruption; thank you.

I reaffirm our commitment to inclusivity and look forward to continued engagement with our community. Please reach out with any questions or concerns – I am always happy to talk.

Sincerely,

Lawson”

Zoombombing is the internet scourge of vandals who interrupt meetings by sharing pornographic images and/or racist content. Public meetings which post advance notices are most susceptible.

Thus far, public town meetings have been spared of this, although other MDI meetings have succumbed to Zoombombing, according to sources.

Even at this late stage, many of the towns’ Zoom meetings have inadequate protocol. The hosts of these meetings must understand the top two vulnerabilities.

The vandals typically do not allow themselves to be visually apparent, hiding behind a black screen, until they pounce with pornography or the like until the host detects them and kicks them off. But that could take a while, especially when the room is full like the Mount Desert planning board session this week when, at one time, more than 100 persons dialed in. The second vulnerability is when there is “screen share” and a vandal may take advantage of the annotate function to upload an image or video to share with the group, like a presenter. Hosts should plan ahead to allow only certain presenters to have that access.

Unfortunately, we live in an age when such precautions are necessary.

(psst, I plan to hawk my 1968 Mickey Mantle Topps card at the next Zoom session of the planning board.)

New SWH harbormaster has strong pedigree on Quietside

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SOUTHWEST HARBOR, Jan. 16, 2021 – There are Gilleys buried in virtually every cemetery on the Quietside, so the chances of one becoming the town’s newest harbormaster is better than, say, a Millstein becoming one.

Town Manager Justin VanDongen announced this week he has hired Jesse Gilley, a lifetime town resident, to replace Adam Thurston, who left after 10 years to become deputy harbormaster in Mount Desert.

The 29-year-old Gilley has a rich portfolio of abilities which seem perfect for a harbormaster, including work for the Charles Bradley Marine Construction Co. in Southwest Harbor. The harbormaster must have a strong background for maintenance of docks and floats owned by the town.

“I’ve spent my whole life working on the waters around here as a private boat captain to commercial fishing,” said Gilley. He did take three years off to work as a scallop fishermen off New Bedford. He is a young father of a son and is expecting a daughter soon.