Prince George’s County has emerged as the center of Maryland’s response to COVID-19, with leaders and hospital officials saying they are focusing their efforts on the diverse suburban county.
With 3,875 cases and 141 deaths, the county has had more coronavirus patients than any other county in the state. The next closest county is Montgomery County, which has more than 1,000 fewer cases than its neighbor.
Gov. Larry Hogan and Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks Wednesday opened a significant expansion of beds at University of Maryland Laurel Medical Center.
“This hospital is for all of us a really wonderful opportunity to handle the surge as it occurs,” Alsobrooks said. “We know that we are really still in the middle of this and that we will have great need in the coming weeks to care for Prince Georgians in Prince George’s County. And so to be able to expand that bed space was really critical to us.”
Alsobrooks said that in the county men, particularly African-American men, are waiting too long to seek medical attention for their COVID-19 symptoms, contributing to the county’s issues. African-American men account for 64% of all deaths in the county, she said.
“One of the concerns we have is that as the numbers start coming in and we collect data, we realize that men, in particular, have really succumbed to this virus in terms of the numbers of deaths that we have seen,” she said. “We were so distressed to learn that at least a couple of our residents died at home last week because they waited too late to seek medical treatment.”
While statewide hospital usage has been below capacity, two hospital systems with a significant presence in the county said they were concerned about the level of patients in Prince George’s County. All told, 983 Prince Georgians have been hospitalized, nearly 30% of all hospitalizations in Maryland.
Mohan Suntha, president and CEO of the University of Maryland Medical System, whose University of Maryland Capital Region Health covers Prince George’s County, told lawmakers in the Joint COVID-19 Response Legislative Work Group that his system has been focused on the county.
Laurel Regional Hospital, a former Capital Region Health hospital that was closed to open a smaller medical center on the hospital’s first two floors. The hospital’s 3rd, 4th and 5th floors have been reopened with 135 beds, including 35 intensive care beds that come with the ventilators to help patients with severe COVID-19 cases breathe.
Hogan said adding beds at Laurel, which opened the same year his father was elected Prince George’s county executive, became one of the state’s first priorities in responding to the pandemic.
“Undoubtedly the assets that the state committed to around the temporary reopening of beds in Laurel have been a huge asset in terms of response,” Suntha said.
Stephen R. T. Evans, MedStar Health’s chief medical officer, told the legislative panel that MedStar’s Washington-area hospitals have seen a significant influx in patients, particularly MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center in Clinton.
“Our intense hot spots are just what you have seen already: P.G. County, Montgomery County,” he said. “To give you a sense of those numbers, even at … Medstar Southern Maryland Hospital, which is our epicenter, we have expanded by 100% our critical care capabilities there, doubling our size.”
Prince George’s County patients in the system are also being treated at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, that system’s flagship location. Sixty-five of the system’s 100 intubated patients are being treated there.
Suntha and Evans said that as part of larger systems, they have been able to allocate resources to the parts of their system that are seeing the most cases. Suntha called it a “popcorn effect,” meaning not every community has been affected at the same time or with the same level of severity.
“When we look at the stress of what we’re experiencing in Prince George’s County, as an example, we have been fortunate that as a system we have been able to bring resources into the county from a human capital standpoint, we have been able to bring technology and we have been able to move patients both in and out of the counties that we have experienced that surge,” Suntha said.
Beds are also being added through medical tents and new beds at University of Maryland Prince George’s Hospital Center, Adventist HealthCare Fort Washington Medical Center and Doctors Community Health in Lanham. Similar facilities are being set up at other hospitals across the state.