Mainers should be proud. Following in the Maine tradition of putting people before politics, Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King are among a handful of lawmakers who put politics aside to create a bipartisan package that provides much-needed relief from the damage being inflicted on our economy by COVID-19. As leaders within Maine’s largest health care system, we see the impact of COVID-19 on our patients, our care team members, our communities and on our own operations. The relief is needed, and it couldn’t come at a more critical time.

MaineHealth is proud to have entered the pandemic with enough financial strength to maintain pay and benefits for our 22,000 care team members when non-emergent services were shut down early last spring. But we could not have done it alone. Stimulus funds were critical in stemming our losses. In late spring, our care teams stepped up to resume normal operations, with many forgoing summer vacations to provide needed care to patients. That unprecedented and massive team effort helped us begin to return to normal.

But a $110 million hole left by the first surge remains. And we are now in the midst of a second surge that is forcing us to slow our normal operations again. As we work hard to balance the need to maintain access to care to patients who do not have COVID-19 with that of patients who are suffering from the deadly virus, like all businesses, we are forced to weigh the consequences of the revenue losses that result from postponing needed care. Support from the federal government is critical to ensure that we can maintain access to needed health care throughout the 11 counties in Maine and one in New Hampshire that we serve.

The bipartisan relief package is not perfect. Like any compromise, it does not go as far as some would like in certain areas, and it goes further than some would like in others. In fact, the final version provides limited direct relief to providers, kicking that can down the road for a future package. From our perspective, however, it does provide relief to people in need at a time when so many in our communities are suffering.

And thanks to the leadership of our senators, the final bill also contains important changes that support the improved delivery of health care in Maine:

• Allows for more effective use of provider relief funds within our local health systems.

• Provides support to grow our physician workforce by adding new residency spots that will help to maintain access to care, particularly in rural communities.

• Much needed support for mental health and substance use services.

• Support for new provider models in rural settings.

• Substantial support for COVID testing, contact tracing and vaccine distribution.

As the pandemic rages on, Maine’s health systems are faced with the challenge of supporting the immediate and unprecedented needs of our care team members and our communities, while continuing to address the substantial health care challenges that Maine faced before the pandemic. The changing face of Maine’s population and economy create significant challenges for our future, particularly in identifying ways to maintain access to high-quality and affordable health care for Maine’s rural communities. Though this bill will by no means solve those challenges, thanks to the leadership of our senators, it does take important steps to recognize their impact.

Maine has long been well served by federal delegations that roll up their sleeves to get the job done for our state. From Margaret Chase Smith to Ed Muskie, George Mitchell and Olympia Snowe, Maine has been represented in Washington by U.S. senators who are national leaders. Today, we are fortunate to have Sens. Collins and King continuing that tradition, particularly during this unprecedented environment in exceptionally challenging times.

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