The record-setting number of COVID-19 patients being admitted to hospitals is leading health care leaders to make difficult decisions, such as postponing non-emergency, but needed, surgeries for patients.

MaineHealth leaders said the situation may get worse as a post-holiday surge of the virus could lead to even more COVID-19 patients being treated.

“This is truly a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” MaineHealth Chief Executive Officer Andrew Mueller said Wednesday, Dec. 8 during a Zoom media conference.

Seventy-five to 80 percent of people in the MaineHealth hospitals with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, he said.

The best thing that the public can do to prevent an even more serious crisis is to get vaccinated, he said.

Chris Bowe, chief medical officer for Mid Coast-Parkview Health, said the hospitals in the Midcoast are experiencing the same situation as the other hospitals within MaineHealth. He said there are days when Pen Bay Medical Center can accept some patients from other MaineHealth facilities, and there are days when they must send some of their patients elsewhere because of capacity issues.

Non-emergency, but medically-necessary surgeries, are being postponed because of the record number of COVID-19 patients who require far more intensive and lengthy care. The services being postponed, for example, are joint replacement or spinal surgeries. While they may not be emergency in nature, they are needed to allow people to return to work or get through their daily lives.

Mueller praised healthcare employees for working during the pandemic under difficult circumstances. He urged people to be civil, saying in addition to the stresses of treating so many people who are so ill, workers must deal with people who are uncivil and occasionally assaultive.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills announced Dec. 8 she signed a directive activating up to 75 additional members of the Maine National Guard who will be used in non-clinical support roles to expand capacity at health care facilities by:

* Providing support to nursing facilities and swing bed units that accept patients discharged from hospitals experiencing critical care capacity challenges. Enhancing the ability of these “decompression sites” to accept more patients will allow hospitals to safely discharge more individuals, relieving a bottleneck that will then allow hospitals to provide inpatient care for more people with COVID-19 and ensure delivery of health care for other serious health problems.

* Helping administer monoclonal antibodies to prevent serious illness from COVID-19 and keep Maine people out of critical care, preserving intensive care unit capacity. Under the Governor’s directive, members of the National Guard will deploy beginning next week to locations across Maine. These locations will be determined in the coming days in collaboration with the leadership of Maine’s health care systems. It is expected members of the Guard will be deployed in these critical support staff roles through the end of January 2022, subject to need.

The Governor also announced her administration has requested Federal COVID-19 Surge Response Teams on behalf of two Maine hospitals — Maine Medical Center in Portland and Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston — under the Biden Administration’s COVID-19 Winter Response Plan. If approved, teams of federal clinicians, including physicians, nurses, and certified nursing assistants, will supplement existing staff and members of the Maine National Guard to provide care for those with COVID-19.

The CDC reported Wednesday another record-setting number of hospitalizations. As of Dec. 8, 379 Mainers are hospitalized with the virus, 117 in critical care units and 60 are on respirators. Only two weeks ago, those numbers were 298, 87 and 36.

Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said Dec. 8, seven of the people hospitalized are children and three of those children are in intensive care units because of COVID-19.