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. 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.

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

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. 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:

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

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