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Md. hospitals look for relief from federal stimulus bill

Fran Phillips, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Health, left, speaks as Gov. Larry Hogan listens on March 10, 2020. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Fran Phillips, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Health, left, speaks as Gov. Larry Hogan listens on March 10, 2020. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Maryland hospitals stand to benefit from Congress’s massive $2 trillion stimulus bill, but questions about what they would get and when remain unanswered.

The state’s hospitals have not yet entered a “crisis situation” over beds for COVID-19 so far, state officials said Wednesday, especially when compared to states with a high amount of cases like New York and Washington.

But hospitals have spent money and other resources preparing for cases to rise, including adding beds, buying more equipment and testing.

“While the hospitals are pleased to see federal support for our state’s activities, it’s not clear yet how and when those funds will be dispersed,” Nicole Stallings, senior vice president for government affairs and policy at the Maryland Hospital Association, said in a statement. “Maryland hospitals and health systems are already investing a considerable amount to bolster our capacity to care for a potential surge in coronavirus patients. We need immediate relief. We are hoping the desire to care for our communities will remain a priority over politics as they look to disseminate both dollars and supplies.”

Text of the legislation was not immediately available Wednesday and the Senate had not voted on the bill as of press time, but reports about the draft suggest $100 billion would go to the nation’s hospitals and health systems.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York and the Senate minority leader, has called for a “Marshall Plan for hospitals.”

“We have proposed a hundred billion dollar to go to our hospitals for equipment, for more beds, and to help bring in more nurses of doctors, there are shortages of them too,” he told CNN last week. “These hospitals are hurting. If we don’t do this, large numbers of smaller hospitals, hospitals in rural areas will simply close down.”

In Maryland, hospitals have been scrambling to meet Gov. Larry Hogan’s call for 6,000 new hospital beds in response to the coronavirus pandemic, anticipating a worst-case surge.

A 32-bed unit Mercy Medical Center is building atop its inpatient building will cost $12.5 million, the hospital said. University of Maryland Medical System could temporarily reopen Laurel Regional Hospital and a field hospital is being set up at the Baltimore Convention Center.

More than 2,400 beds are currently available, Hogan said Wednesday. Canceling elective procedures helped create many of those bed spaces.

“We are not in a crisis situation in terms of hospital beds,” Fran Phillips, deputy state health secretary, said.

But officials also expect cases to continue to increase in the coming days and weeks.

Money could also go toward helping pay for testing, personal protective equipment and other health care expenses related to the pandemic.

But acquiring tests and protective equipment has just as much to do with availability as it does with price. Tests and equipment have been in short supply, with health care providers and first-responders scrambling to find equipment like masks.

“We’ve been attempting to buy all of those things everywhere across the globe,” Hogan said.

Whatever benefits hospitals and other health care providers get from this stimulus package is unlikely to be the last aid they receive. Lawmakers have been quick to say in interviews and on social media that this legislation will likely be followed by multiple other legislative packages.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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