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Hospitals, state adding hundreds of beds to prepare for coronavirus

Baltimore Convention Center could become a temporary hospital, governor says

City officials say that the Baltimore Convention Center is too small to meet many of the demands of today's convention planners. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

Maryland plans to open a field hospital at the Baltimore Convention Center, run by University of Maryland Medical System and Johns Hopkins Health. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

Maryland and its hospitals have begun adding beds and choosing sites for temporary hospitals as COVID-19 hospitalizations are expected to rise over the coming weeks.

Mercy Medical Center and LifeBridge Health announced plans last week to bring hundreds of new hospital beds online. Gov. Larry Hogan announced actions Monday that include turning the Baltimore Convention Center and Hilton Hotel into a temporary hospital and reopening the recently shuttered Laurel Regional Hospital.

“There are plans that nobody thought would have to be used, but now they are being pulled off the shelf and put to work,” said Bob Atlas, president and CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association.

Through Saturday, 21 people in Maryland had been hospitalized for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and five of those people had been discharged. All told in Maryland, 288 people have been infected, according to state numbers released Monday.

Beds are available at most state hospitals, especially after elective procedures were postponed last week, but officials are preparing for a surge.

Maryland has around 9,400 licensed beds — before the additional surge beds are added. Of those beds, there are 1,800 regular adult beds and 275 intensive care beds available, said Dr. Timothy Chizmar, medical director of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, which has been surveying hospital capacity daily.

There are also 200 regular pediatric beds and 70 intensive care pediatric beds available, Chizmar said. Those numbers include Children’s National Hospital in Washington.

Hogan has said he wants 6,000 new beds in the state to prepare for the worst-case scenario.

“The 6,000 is truly the later-stage, worst-case scenario, at which point we are talking about the kinds of beds that might not be called a certified hospital bed,” Atlas said.

Hospitals began adding more space earlier this month when they set up tents outside of emergency departments and on parking garages. They have also found other spaces for beds.

Last week, Mercy received emergency clearance from regulators to begin construction on a 32-bed unit on the 18th floor of its main inpatient building. The hospital expects construction to finish in less than three months.

LifeBridge Health announced Friday that it had found space for additional beds at its hospitals and has plans to add up to 500 beds. This week, 20 beds will be added at Northwest Hospital in a unit that had been undergoing renovations and 70 beds could also be added at Grace Medical Center, formerly Bon Secours Hospital.

“Each hospital has a written emergency plan in place that includes how we can quickly increase capacity in beds, staffing and equipment,” Tom Jeffers, the system’s corporate director of emergency management, said in a statement. “We have multiple phases outlined at each facility to add as the need grows.”

Hogan plans to add capacity at venues outside of current hospitals.

The University of Maryland Medical System and Johns Hopkins Medicine will open a field hospital at the Baltimore Convention Center and Hilton Hotel, Hogan said. He has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for 250 beds and 50 bed packages for the field hospital.

Another 135 beds could be added at the closed Laurel Regional Hospital, which University of Maryland Medical System shut down to open a smaller facility.

The system said it was supportive of Hogan’s announcements.

“UMMS is well-positioned to meet the health care needs of the community and we will continue to prioritize system resources to address this pandemic,” a system statement said.

At all hospitals adding capacity, staffing additional beds is a concern. While canceling elective procedures frees up staff to work on COVID-19 cases, hospitals still need more, especially as thousands of beds come online.

Hospitals need health care providers, cooks and people to clean, Atlas said.

“We’re certainly looking at staffing options. The rules have been relaxed again so people with expired licenses can be brought back into service and there are numerous other ways to get people some relief,” he said. “By the same token, there is a lot of people who have been put out of their jobs in other settings who are volunteering or showing up asking for paid work, and it is an all-hands-on-deck thing, I’m sure.”

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