AUGUSTA — Eleven members of the Maine National Guard will serve at Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast as part of Gov. Janet Mills’ announced deployment of Guard troops to 16 health care facilities across the state beginning Thursday, Jan. 20.

Mills activated 169 additional Guard members in response to record-high COVID-19 hospitalizations in Maine, the majority of which are people who are not vaccinated. As of Friday, Jan. 14, there was a near-record high of 424 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maine, including 109 in critical care and 57 on ventilators, leaving only 46 adult intensive care unit (ICU) beds available in the state.

“I am grateful to the Maine National Guard and to health care workers across the state who are working day and night to save the lives of Maine people,” Mills said in a Jan. 14 press release. “Maine people must now also do their part to stem this crisis: Please step up and get vaccinated today, regardless of whether it’s your first shot or your third. Doing so may save your life or it may save a child too young to be vaccinated, and it will certainly spare our health care workers and National Guard members.”

Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said in the press release that Mill’s activation of the Maine National Guard “has been crucial in helping to maintain critical care capacity in Maine’s hospitals since mid-December.”

“As Maine continues to respond to the omicron surge, these additional deployments will help hospitals care for people with COVID-19 and other illnesses by supporting our strained health care workers, who continue to urge Maine people to get vaccinated. We remain grateful to our National Guard neighbors for their service.”

Maj. Gen. Douglas Farnham said, “I continue to be extremely proud of the men and women of the Maine National Guard, their families, and their employers. Their assistance is making a real difference during this difficult period, and we will continue to do all we can in the fight COVID-19.”

Beginning Jan. 20 and running through Feb. 25, Guard members will deploy to serve in non-clinical support roles, helping the 16 hospitals maintain capacity by freeing up clinical staff to focus on patient care. Their assistance will also open additional beds at nursing facilities, in swing bed units, and at other “decompression sites” that accept patients discharged from hospitals, according to the press release from the Governor’s Office.

This, in turn, 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, the press release said.

The Mills administration developed these deployments in collaboration with Maine hospitals with the goal of complementing existing staff and available resources to open additional beds and address need. The deployments are scheduled through Feb. 25, subject to need.

These additional Guard members will join the more than 202 Guard members already on orders supporting COVID-19 response efforts, including supporting hospital decompression; staffing testing centers and vaccine clinics; helping inventory and deliver personal protective equipment (PPE), testing supplies, and vaccines; and supporting case investigation and laboratory testing.

As announced earlier this week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has also approved Mills’ request for federal COVID-19 Surge Response Teams for MaineHealth in Portland and Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. These two teams, consisting of a total of seven federally contracted nurses and pharmacists, began arriving earlier this week and are scheduled to stay through Jan. 27. Three clinicians are serving at MaineHealth and four at CMMC, where they will administer COVID-19 vaccines, freeing up Maine clinicians to provide patient care.

The new federal teams complement eight federally supported ambulances and crews that are providing transportation of inpatients to available beds among facilities in Maine. Since their arrival, the ambulances and crews have transported 178 patients, significantly shortening the time that patients wait for such transfers and opening beds that help free up critical care capacity. They will continue service in Maine through Jan. 26.

The Maine National Guard is a part-time military force of nearly 3,000 men and women who serve their communities, state and nation.