Maine’s Unlawful Shot Mandate Increased Its Health Care Crisis

Aug 17, 2023

BANGOR, ME – Governor Janet Mills and state health officials and hospitals that denied health care employees’ religious accommodations, terminated them for refusing the COVID-19 shot, and prevented them from receiving unemployment benefits, now admit that Maine is facing an increasing ongoing shortage of health care employees.  

In April 2022, Maine had the third-largest nursing shortage in the nation. A study confirmed that “38% of nursing homes and long-term care facilities in Maine are reporting nursing shortages this year – a more than 18% increase from 2020 when the pandemic began.” According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 195,400 openings are projected for registered nurses from 2021-2031. The Nurse Journal Report on the U.S. Nursing Shortage shows that as of June 27, 2023, Maine has a total of 14,380 nurses, which equates to 10.53 nurses per 1,000 residents, or one nurse per 100 residents. 

Incidentally, Maine’s number of adults age 65 or older represent 22 percent of its total population, the highest share of older residents in any state. Maine is also the most rural state in the nation. 

In 2021, while Governor Mills was requiring health care workers to accept a COVID-19 shot or be terminated, hospitals in Maine already faced a dramatic shortage of health care workers. In October 2021 during the deadline for health care employees to be vaccinated for COVID, MaineHealth, one of Maine’s largest health care providers, said it faced “unprecedented capacity issues” due in part to a “shortage of workers.” MaineHealth specifically reported that it “had to resort to treating patients in hallways and diverting others to different hospitals due to the strain. The staffing crunch has been a long-standing issue in healthcare, but it's been made worse by COVID-19.” 

Governor Mills noted that the health care industry was the hardest hit industry in Maine because of COVID-19, and represented 12 percent of the job losses in Maine. However, she does not acknowledge the loss of so many health care workers that were fired for refusing the COVID shot. In 2021, she unveiled “new initiatives” designed to encourage people to pursue health care jobs in Maine and to strengthen the state’s health care workforce. On the same day a federal judge upheld a Maine COVID shot mandate for all its health care workers, Gov. Janet Mills presented ways the state is trying to combat a scarcity of health care workers highlighted this week by a suspension of services at a Maine hospital. 

This year, Maine legislators even considered a bill to require hospitals to hire more nurses by reducing nurse-to-patient ratios because of the significant industry burnout in the nursing profession. This was needed because the nursing shortage is predicted to be between 1,450 and 2,250 registered nurses in Maine, and hospital officials have noted Maine’s “pervasive nursing shortage.” The sponsor of the bill, Senator Stacy Brenner, is a former nurse and said the bill was necessary because “the workplace conditions are really overwhelming for an inpatient hospital nurse” because of the significant nursing shortage.

MaineGeneral Health recently reached out to former employees with a text that said: “As you know, nearly 2 years ago MaineGeneral had to comply with a state mandate for COVID-19 vaccination. We lost a number of great employees as a result, including you. On 8/3/23, the State eliminated the mandate for COVID-19 vaccinations for health care workers. Based on this change, MaineGeneral has eliminated the COVID-19 vaccination as an employment condition. You were once a proud member of the MaineGeneral team. Would you consider rejoining us? We would be pleased to discuss options for you.” 

The Maine Wire interviewed several nurses and other health care workers who were fired from MaineGeneral Health two years ago for refusing to take the COVID-19 shot. For example, Terry Poland worked as a registered nurse for 33 years at MaineGeneral, Central Maine Medical Center, Pen Bay Medical Center, and the Aroostook Medical Center. Poland discovered that the shots were all associated with aborted fetal cells and as a Christian, she knew that she could not get the injection.  After she was fired, Poland sought help from the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming that she was discriminated against on the basis of her religious beliefs. MaineGeneral Health argued that allowing Poland’s religious accommodations would impose an “undue hardship” on the hospital. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Maine Human Rights Commission rejected her case. 

When Poland recently received the text from MaineGeneral Health inviting her to return to work there she said, “I was livid. Like, how dare you force me out of a career that I’ve dedicated my whole life to, taken away my livelihood, my ability to earn a good income, and now you think I’m gonna come grovel back to you? I don’t hardly think so…I knew enough not to take it. I’ve been a nurse long enough to know I need to question what new products are. I’m not going to be the first one to jump on board of an experiment.” 

Another example is Kevin Palmer who worked as a credentialing coordinator for Southern Maine Health Care and applied for a religious exemption and was denied. Palmer said, “I had heart surgery in high school, survived brain cancer in my 20s, and now they’re telling me I have to get this shot over a virus with a 99.99 percent survival rate?” he said. 

Even though the hospital gave Palmer an employment date in an email, the Maine Department of Labor ruled against him and Palmer never received any unemployment benefits. Four months later he finally found another job with a 20 percent pay cut. 

This week, Liberty Counsel filed a petition for writ of certiorari asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review Alicia Lowe, et al., v. Janet Mills, et al, on behalf of health care workers in Maine who were terminated because their religious exemptions from Governor Janet Mills’ unconstitutional, illegal, and unlawful COVID-19 shot mandate were denied. Liberty Counsel represents the seven health care workers against Governor Janet Mills, Jeanne Lambrew, in her official capacity as Commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Nancy Beardsley, in her official capacity as Acting Director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and five of the state’s largest hospital systems which include: MaineHealth, Genesis Healthcare of Maine, MaineGeneral Health, and Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center. 

In the petition, Liberty Counsel presents facts that Governor Mills and the state health officials and hospitals have acted as if federal law does not apply in Maine and forced employers to ignore Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by denying all religious accommodations for the health care workers. 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Gov. Janet Mills and health officials fired health care employees for refusing the COVID shot even though they knew that Maine has an ongoing health care shortage. These same health care professionals worked tirelessly during COVID but were then kicked to the curb when Gov. Mills enacted her unlawful and abusive shot mandate. Mills and the employers violated federal law. These health care heroes deserve justice. The people of Maine continue to suffer because of these tyrannical actions.” 

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