York Hospital is suspending emergency care services at its Wells campus beginning Monday.

Hospital officials said Thursday that the suspension was temporary and related to long-term staffing struggles in the health care industry that have been magnified during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jim Lapolla, the director of Wells EMS, which runs the town’s ambulance service, said the change would have no direct impact on their operations as they do not transport patients to that facility, taking them instead to other hospitals. “They don’t receive ambulances there,” Lapolla said. “We never transport patients there. Never.”

The decision was not prompted by the state’s impending vaccine mandate for health care workers, said Dr. Patrick Taylor, the hospital’s president. More than 98 percent of the hospital network’s staff is now fully vaccinated and in compliance with the mandate, he said.

“The vaccine mandate has not contributed to our decision to temporarily close the emergency services component of York Hospital in Wells,” Taylor said.  “Rather, the overall continued labor shortages faced by all of health care over the past two years, significantly influenced by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to health care workers, is fundamental to what we’re currently experiencing. Universally, health care has seen their workers leaving for other industries, retiring early and especially in nursing, taking on ‘traveler opportunities.'”

The hospital group employs 1,182 full-time, part-time and per diem employees at its locations in Biddeford, Wells and York, but was unable to provide a breakdown by site due to the number of employees who work at multiple locations.

The Wells campus is primarily an urgent care and outpatient clinic. It still will offer walk-in urgent care services and also will maintain certified emergency physicians and emergency-trained staff on site, the statement said. Other services offered at the Wells location, including X-rays and its outpatient lab, also will remain available.

The hospital is advising people in Wells who experience medical emergencies or life-threatening symptoms to call 911 or visit the emergency department at the nearby York hospital campus. The two affiliated hospital campuses are 14 to 15 miles apart via I-95 or Route 1.

The Wells hospital sees on average six to seven patients a day that need emergency services, while it sees an average of 30 walk-in patients in its urgent care clinic. Its emergency department in York sees an average of 44 patients a day, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Lapolla said that patients from Wells with life-threatening emergencies would be transported directly to other hospitals in the region, including Maine Medical Center in Portland or Southern Maine Medical Center in Biddeford. Lapolla said most major traumas, which include severe injuries from motor vehicle accidents, would be transported to Maine Medical Center.

Lapolla said York Hospital had previously suspended emergency services at its Wells campus earlier in the pandemic but the direct impact on the community was minimal as the facility continues to handle the typical walk-in patients it always has.

“The things like a sore throat or back pain are still going to be taken care of there during their regular hours,” Lapolla said.

“This temporary change will allow us the flexibility we need at this time to appropriately care for our patients, both at Wells Urgent Care and the York Hospital Emergency Department,” Taylor said in a prepared statement. “We appreciate our community’s continued patience and understanding as we work to safely care for all of our patients.

The timing of the announcement comes as Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston also is reducing some services and has attributed the changes to staffing losses resulting from a state vaccine mandate. The mandate means hospital workers who are not fully vaccinated and do not have a medical exemption can no longer keep their jobs as of Oct. 29.

While most other hospitals have said the vast majority of workers are complying and services will not be affected by the loss of staff who refuse, Central Maine Medical Center has curtailed admissions for some medical services and has cited the loss of unvaccinated workers.


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