Maine’s hospital systems are responding to workforce shortages exacerbated by the pandemic by increasing wages in order to attract and retain employees.

MaineHealth, the state’s largest health care network, announced on Wednesday that 18,000 employees will be getting a 2 percent raise in August, and minimum wages will increase from $14 per hour to $17 per hour.

The parent organization of Maine Medical Center in Portland, as well as several other Maine hospitals and a network of health care services throughout the state, MaineHealth will be investing $61 million in wage and benefit increases.

In an interview with the Press Herald on Wednesday, Dr. Andrew Mueller, CEO of MaineHealth, said many employees left health care during the pandemic because they were “exhausted and tired and fearful.”

“The reality is we are experiencing severe shortfalls, not just at MaineHealth but across the entire industry,” Mueller said, noting shortages among custodians, sonographers and imaging technicians.

Michele Talka, vice president and chief human resources officer at Central Maine Healthcare, the parent company of Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, said all employees there received a 2 percent increase in July. She also said other pay increases happened in certain high-demand job categories, such as nursing assistants and lab workers, and the system will “probably” establish a $15 minimum wage soon.

“We’ve been struggling with workforce issues for years, and the pandemic exacerbated the situation,” Talka said, explaining that lack of access to child care during the pandemic and higher unemployment payments led to people being less likely to seek full-time work.

She also said some people retired early because of the stress of working during the pandemic.

At Northern Light Health, the parent company of Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and Northern Light Mercy Hospital in Portland, the hospital system established a $15 minimum wage in June.

At MaineHealth, while the minimum increase is 2 percent, many job classifications will receive higher increases. The raises take effect Aug. 8.

“We are committed to our vision of ‘working together so our communities are the healthiest in America,’ and to achieve that, we must retain and attract the best people,” Mueller said in a statement announcing the investment. “Our goal is to create a remarkable environment where each team member feels valued and fulfilled in the meaningful work we do to support our vision.”

John Porter, MaineHealth spokesman, said that the August raise will come on top of merit raises given to many employees in April. He said many employees will see a raise greater than 2 percent.

Employees in the newly established nurses’ union at Maine Med – about 2,000 members of the Maine State Nurses Association – will not receive the raises. Mueller said nurses were not included because negotiations will be starting next week on an initial contract. Nurses voted to join the union in April after a contentious organizing effort.

“We expect compensation and benefits will be part of that negotiation,” Mueller said.

Emily Wilder, a Maine Med nurse who is part of the union bargaining team, said in a statement to the Press Herald that the raises are welcome, and “better pay and benefits” will be on the bargaining table when nurses negotiate with hospital leaders.

“We are thrilled for our co-workers across the hospital who will now be earning more pay for themselves and their families, as they deserve,” Wilder said. “And as union nurses,  we are very excited to be on our way to the bargaining table on August 4. There we will discuss patient care and bargain for better pay and benefits to allow Maine Med to attract and retain qualified nurses at our hospital.”

In his statement, Mueller said that “after unprecedented financial losses related to the pandemic, this was not an easy decision to make, but we know it is the right one for our organization, our people and our patients. This is, first and foremost, an investment in the people who have been here, day-in-and-day-out, helping our communities through this awful pandemic.”


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