Senator Joyce Maker’s Monthly Column

There’s been a lot of worrisome news for Washington County out of Augusta lately, but in spite of the headlines and the uncertainty that still plagues Downeast Correctional Facility, there are some great things happening this session at the State House. 

A prime example is a new law, sponsored by my colleague Representative Brad Farrin (R-Norridgewock), which will help fill some of the critical medical vacancies around the state while also helping our veterans more successfully transition to civilian life.

The bill, “An Act to Expedite Healthcare Employment for Medical Veterans,” achieved broad bipartisan support in both the House of Representatives and the Senate and went into law earlier this month without the governor’s signature. It’s the result of a lot of hard work and it will cut unnecessary red tape for healthcare providers and veterans returning from service.

With 120,000 veterans calling Maine home, we are in the top four states for veterans per capita with 10 percent of our population having served in the armed forces and less than half (47 percent) are of retirement age. 

400 military veterans in Maine have valuable military training in healthcare, and before this bill, it was not easy for them to transfer their valuable military medic training and experience to equivalent civilian jobs in the medical field because our certification requirements did not honor their years of experience in the field. 

That means someone who served as a combat medic for four years or more would have to begin their education from scratch once returning home when they had received training at least to an EMT level during their service.

This new law will create a program to facilitate the match of veterans to employers so veterans can continue their education and training through apprenticeships, ultimately securing healthcare positions in local hospitals, assisted living facilities and other healthcare facilities.

This is a win-win for our veterans and our healthcare community. Maine is facing an imminent nursing shortage as our nursing population, much like the rest of the state, is aging. A study last year showed that we are near the workforce cliff. According to the study, we could be short 3,200 nurses in seven-years’ time.

Lisa Harvey-McPherson, the co-chairwoman of the Maine Nursing Action Coalition, said last year that, “Every region of Maine and every health care setting faces challenges as our state ages and a wave of dedicated caregivers approaches retirement.” This is especially true in Washington County where 48 percent of the nurses are nearing retirement.

This new law takes an important step toward recognizing the valuable skills and experiences of our veterans with medical training as they return to civilian life while taking steps to mitigate some of the impending nursing shortage. 

I am proud we were able to see this bill through to the finish line and am hopeful that veterans with a medical background who reside in Washington County will take full advantage of the new program.

Senator Joyce Maker serves District 6 in the Maine State Senate which consists of all of Washington County and the municipalities and unorganized territories of Gouldsboro, Sullivan, Winter Harbor and part of the East Hancock Unorganized Territories.