FILE - Virus Outbreak Maine

Members of the Maine National Guard arrive for orientation an empty wing at Central Maine Medical Center, Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, in Lewiston, Maine. 

(The Center Square) – Gov. Janet Mills is sending in more National Guard troops to help Maine's hospitals deal with chronic staff shortages amid a flood of COVID-19 patients. 

Mills said she is deploying another 169 National Guard members beginning this week to serve in non-clinical support roles at health care facilities throughout the state.

"I wish we did not have to take this step, but the rise in hospitalizations – caused primarily by those who are not vaccinated – is stretching the capacity of our health care system thin, jeopardizing care for Maine people, and putting increased strain on our already exhausted health care workers," Mills said in a statement. 

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of Maine's Center for Disease Control, said the additional support "is needed to care for people severely ill with COVID-19, as well as those needing hospital care for other reasons."

Like many states, Maine is dealing with a surge of COVID-19 patients that has been exacerbated by a critical shortage of nurses and other medical professionals.  

The state reported 1,379 new COVID-19 infections on Tuesday while 395 were hospitalized with the virus, including 105 in intensive care.

Meanwhile, a chronic shortage of nurses and other health care workers is preventing acute care hospitals from expanding their capacity.

Steven Michaud, president of the Maine Hospital Association, said the National Guard reinforcements are "welcome news to our beleaguered hospitals."

"We are in the midst of the most difficult time of the entire pandemic for hospitals," he said. "We are stretched to our bed capacity limits, all the while more and more of our employees are out due to COVID exposures. The stress on our caregivers can’t be overstated."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved the Mills administration's request to deploy more "surge response teams" to boost hospital staffing.

The plan calls for deploying seven more physicians, nurses, and paramedics to supplement existing staff at MaineHealth in Portland and Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston to provide care for those with COVID-19 and other serious medical issues.

Paul Ford, FEMA's acting regional director, said in a statement that "providing resources for our partners on the front lines of the pandemic fight is critical to their success, and our success as a nation."