FILE - Maine Vaccinations

Nurses Sharon Daley, left, and Maureen Giffen fill syringes with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in a makeshift clinic in the kitchen of a community center, Friday, March 19, 2021, on Great Cranberry Island, Maine. 

(The Center Square) – Gov. Janet Mills is giving some health care workers a raise by increasing state Medicaid reimbursement rates for more than 200 residential care facilities. 

The higher rates, which were part of a law signed by Mills earlier this year, will allow nursing homes and residential care facilities to increase pay for workers to at least 125% of the state’s minimum wage.

Mills said she hopes that increasing the rates "will allow facilities to increase staff wages in the new year and help them recruit and retain committed and compassionate workers."

"Providing quality care for Maine’s most vulnerable people takes commitment and compassion. Our nurses, direct care workers, and assisted living staff have proven they have both, especially during the pandemic," Mills said in a statement. "Our direct care workers deserve pay that matches the important work they do for Maine people."

The higher rates weren't set to go into effect until July, but Mills decided to move up implementation of the new law. 

Angela Westhoff, president and CEO of the Maine Health Care Association, said the increased pay is recognition of the work of "dedicated staff who have logged many long hours during this pandemic caring for Maine’s most vulnerable citizens.”

To ease the financial strain on the state's nursing facilities, Mills also directed the state Department of Health and Human Services to waive penalties on nursing facilities that are experiencing low occupancy rates. 

Mills also announced that she will propose $7.6 million in her administration's forthcoming supplemental budget to reinstate a “supplemental wage adjustment” that will help nursing and residential care facilities deal with higher labor costs. 

Like most states, Maine is experiencing a shortage of health care workers amid a prolonged hiring crunch, COVID-19 vaccine mandates and concerns about the ongoing pandemic. 

In October, Mills unveiled a new plan that calls for spending about $14 million in pandemic relief funds on recruitment initiatives aimed at boosting the number of health care workers and improving employment benefits for those already working in the field.

Money for the initiatives is coming from the $1 billion Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan, which was funded by the state's share of American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Republicans argue that the state's health care staffing shortages have been exacerbated by the Mills administration's COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which they say has resulted in workers being fired for refusing to get jabbed.