vaccine clinic check out

Memorial Hospital staff work to register people for their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the hospital’s clinic at the former Weather Discovery Center in North Conway. (TOM EASTMAN PHOTO)

CONWAY — Memorial Hospital has been looking at the possibility of opening up a vaccination clinic in the nearby Fryeburg, Maine, area in order to reach patients of the hospital who live in the Pine Tree State.

Located in North Conway, Memorial is the only New Hampshire hospital in the MaineHealth system, which includes Maine Medical Center in Portland and a dozen other health-care facilities in Maine.

Memorial officials have said they want to serve all the people in the Mount Washington Valley community regardless of state lines or whether those individuals are patients of the hospital.

The hospital opened a New Hampshire vaccination site at the former Mt. Washington Observatory Weather Discovery Center in North Conway for Carroll County residents but must find another option if it wants to reach people in nearby Maine communities.

“We really want to do this,” Memorial President Art Mathisen said in a Zoom meeting last week. But he said the biggest obstacle right now is state lines. Both Maine and New Hampshire want to use their limited vaccine supplies to vaccinate only their own state’s residents.

The closest vaccination site is Bridgton Hospital, a distance of about 15 miles from Fryeburg, while Memorial Hospital is about 12 miles from Fryeburg.

Memorial’s primary care practice serves about 2,000 people in Maine.

“We can’t bring them here to vaccinate them, so we want to stand up a vaccination clinic in the Fryeburg area to do that,” Mathisen said.

Memorial staff have been talking with MaineHealth about opening just such a clinic and already have a tentative location in mind.

Mathisen said MaineHealth would work with Maine state vaccination officials on the plan, and opening the clinic would be contingent on getting doses of the vaccine from Maine.

A secondary consideration is logistics. Current plans would have the clinic staffed by Memorial Hospital personnel.

“I don’t think it’s a long-term sustainable vaccination clinic for Memorial Hospital at this point,” Mathisen said, because the hospital does not have staff for both over the long run.

“But I think if we can get the doses, the state of Maine says go, MaineHealth gives us the go-ahead, I think we can certainly do it for the patient population of Memorial that lives in Maine,” he said.

Complicating plans for Memorial opening a clinic in Maine is the fact that Maine and New Hampshire have slightly different plans for vaccinating their populations. Maine is still finishing Phase 1A of its vaccination plan, though it has opened Phase 1B for people age 70 and older.

Even the definitions for who fits in each category is different.

Phase 1A for both states includes front-line health care workers, first responders, and residents and staff in nursing homes in Phase 1A.

But Maine’s 1A also includes corrections officers (which are in Phase 1B in New Hampshire) and specifically excluded administrative personnel at hospitals as well as fire and police departments.

Maine has further divisions in Phase 1B, vaccinating the age 70 and older cohort before including people age 65-69.

Like New Hampshire, those with high-risk medical conditions fall under 1B but could be vaccinated in stages depending on their risk and age.

While these differences are not insurmountable, Memorial officials say it would require a shift in thinking.

While Bridgton Hospital, part of Central Maine Healthcare, is the closest Maine vaccination clinic to Fryeburg, the hospital’s website (cmhc.org/get-covid-vaccine) Thursday noted no vaccine appointments are available at this time and recommended that people check the site next Wednesday (Feb. 24) when an update would be posted.

People age 70 or older who live in Maine may hear directly from their health-care provider about getting a vaccine. Those who qualify may also book an appointment by calling the Maine COVID vaccine call center at (207) 520-2917 or registering online at tinyurl.com/ehg6t7so.

Like New Hampshire, all Maine sites require an appointment in order to get the vaccine. They are scheduled on a rolling basis based on availability of vaccine. There is no charge for the COVID-19 vaccine, but people should be prepared to provide any insurance information and proof of eligibility at the vaccination site.

To date, Maine has administered 265,991 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, including 185,906 first doses and 80,085 second doses. New Hampshire has administered XXXXXXXX.

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