Health care, medical school med students

(The Center Square) – Gov. Janet Mills has launched a $1.5 million program to bolster Maine’s health-care work force and attract and retain new workers.

Under the new program, which was unveiled on Thursday, the state is teaming up with a nonprofit group on a new marketing and outreach campaign to highlight entry level positions in health care specialties such as phlebotomy, certified nursing assistants, emergency medical services and medical office assistants.

Mills said the new initiative is part of a broader $20 million initiative to bolster the state's health-care work force and attract a new generation of workers to ease a prolonged hiring crunch.

"Health care provides meaningful, important work, and, as the pandemic has shown us, it’s work that’s more crucial than ever before," Mills said in a statement. "And a strong, high-quality health care system is essential to the health of Maine people and the health of our economy."

The health care sector is one of Maine's largest industries, employing thousands of workers, but Mills said "for too long" the system has "had to grapple with a shortage of workers and the pandemic has only made the problem worse."

The program will be administered by Live and Work in Maine, a nonprofit that markets the state as a career destination. The group plans to launch radio and streaming ads next week as part of an outreach effort that will connect individuals with health care jobs by posting job openings, information about career paths and personal stories of workers on its website.

It's latest round of disbursements from Mills' $1 billion Maine Jobs & Recovery plan, which is funded by the federal American Rescue Plan Act. The state is getting more than $4.5 billion from the pandemic relief package, including money for businesses and direct payments to residents and funding for local governments.

Maine is among a handful of states that are experiencing higher-than-normal levels of staffing shortages in health care, specifically at long-term care facilities, according to a recent report.

The Seniorly report found that nearly 38% of nursing homes and long-term care facilities in Maine are experiencing nursing shortages this year – a more than 18% increase from 2020, when the pandemic began.

Maine' Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman said the new work force initiatives will "help Mainers decide whether health care is the right career for them" and connect prospective workers with education and training resources through the state.

“There are many great entry points into the health care sector, leading to rewarding careers doing critical work," Fortman said.