Hospitals across Maryland are being stretched to their limits, with a fresh wave of coronavirus patients crashing down upon the normal, everyday business of providing health care.
As of Monday afternoon, there were roughly 7,000 patients occupying the approximately 10,000 beds across the state, according to Bob Atlas, the president and CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association.
That is nearing the threshold of 8,000 total patients announced by Gov. Larry Hogan on Dec. 1 that would require all Maryland hospitals to expand their bed capacity by 10 percent within a seven-day period. The threshold represents the approximate number of staffed beds in the state, according to Atlas.
At Frederick Health Hospital, where close to a quarter of its 239 beds and almost half of its 19 intensive-care beds were being used by COVID-19 patients alone, health care providers and administrators have been preparing for months to meet a sudden demand for hospital beds.
At the start of the pandemic in March, the hospital put up a 10-bed mobile unit that was provided by the state outside of its emergency-room entrance for exactly that reason.
Except it was never used.
With current coronavirus metrics spiking far higher than the initial spring wave, the mobile unit could become a part of Frederick Health Hospital's plans if the governor ordered it to expand bed capacity.
The hospital would also seek to reduce non-urgent and elective procedures, perform some surgeries at other medical facilities around the county, focus more on outpatient procedures that wouldn't require an overnight stay and prepare to hand off and accept patients from neighboring hospitals as needed.
"I am concerned about us becoming full and exceeding capacity because of the rate that COVID hospitalization numbers are increasing," said Cheryl Cioffi, the senior vice president, chief operating officer and chief nursing officer for Frederick Health Hospital.
All Maryland hospitals were required by Hogan to submit a detailed surge plan to the Maryland Department of Health by Dec. 8 that outlined staffing and bed capacity adjustments.
On Dec. 9, Maryland reached a record number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations (1,715), and the number has been growing since. On Tuesday, the state reported an all-time high of 1,799 patients were in the hospital due to COVID-19.
Cioffi said Frederick Health Hospital was closely monitoring staff levels and making sure that everyone that worked there felt supported. Some nurses were being placed on teams to help manage workloads and care for patients, while others were being trained to help in other areas.
"We are facing the same challenges that every hospital and health care system is facing," Cioffi said.
Atlas, the Maryland Hospital Association CEO, was hopeful that state hospitals would remain below the threshold for the surge, even with coronavirus metrics rising rapidly.
"We are not on a definitive upward climb to 8,000 [total patients]," he said, speaking of the threshold. "The hospitals are managing their occupancy levels. Some of the non-COVID care they provide has dropped off for various reasons. That has freed up some beds."