High Street in Ellsworth. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

Northern Light Health, the largest health care provider in eastern Maine, is planning to open a large-scale COVID-19 vaccination clinic in a strip mall in Ellsworth by April 1.

Officials with the organization’s hospitals in Ellsworth and Blue Hill have identified a retail space formerly occupied by Family Dollar, next to Shaw’s Supermarket on High Street, for the clinic. They told the Ellsworth City Council on Monday that they are making some renovations to the space and hope to use it for a trial run the last week of March.

The location has ample parking in the strip mall parking lot, and workers have been upgrading the IT capabilities inside the space, John Ronan, president of the two Northern Light hospitals in Hancock County, told the council. It has 7,600 square feet of usable storefront space, plus an additional 2,000 square feet of restrooms and storage, according to a Northern Light spokesperson.

“We think that space offers a great opportunity for us,” Ronan said.

Joseph Gaetano, vice president of operations for the Ellsworth and Blue Hill hospitals, said the former retail space is being deep-cleaned and repainted, ceiling tiles are being replaced, and a second bathroom is being installed for use by clinic patients. He said the goal is to open the clinic to eligible patients 50 years old and older on April 1, and then to all adults as of May 1, following the state’s timeline for vaccine eligibility.

“This larger, convenient space will allow us to administer more vaccine to our communities as it becomes available,” Gaetano said Tuesday. “The Maine Center for Disease Control has announced that vaccine access will quickly expand to more Mainers in the coming months, and Maine Coast and Blue Hill Hospitals want to be ready.”

The current vaccination program at Maine Coast Hospital in Ellsworth, where around 200 vaccine doses are being administered each day, will be moved to the High Street location, while the program at Blue Hill Hospital is expected to continue where it is. The goal is to administer between 500 and 750 vaccine doses each day at the new site.

“It will largely depend on the vaccine supply, which we think is improving, and secondarily we’re going to be reaching out to the community for volunteers,” Gaetano said.

Gaetano told the council that Northern Light has administered more than 8,500 vaccine doses in Ellsworth and Blue Hill over the past six weeks, and that 20,000 people overall have been vaccinated in Hancock County. Some county residents likely have been vaccinated elsewhere, and some people vaccinated in Hancock County likely live outside the county, he said.

Hancock County has roughly 55,000 residents, of whom between 10,000 and 13,000 are 70 or older, he said. People in that age group have been eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccination since January.

“We’ve got a good percentage of them already done,” Gaetano said. “The number continues to grow mightily every day.”

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....