CUMBERLAND — Roughly seven local people are among 50 patients across Maryland that were fielded so far by a new state program created to overcome hospital capacity problems due to COVID-19.
Dr. Ted Delbridge, who has a background in emergency medicine, is executive director of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems.
The agency runs a new coordination center based in Baltimore that Maryland launched roughly a week ago, which streamlines the process hospitals face when they are full and need to find other facilities for patients.
When a hospital has reached capacity, the coordination center’s on-call doctors communicate with local physicians regarding a patient’s perceived requirements, and find another facility suitable for care.
“We basically match the needs of the patient with the availability of hospitals and try to facilitate having those patients moved to those places where the resources exist,” Delbridge said.
More than half of patients across the state that have been facilitated have not tested positive for COVID-19, he said.
Before the center’s creation, there was no technical information repository that matched patient needs with hospital availability.
“Among the leaders in the system, there’s been some discussion for some time that we needed to emulate the trauma system,” Delbridge said and added Maryland has one of the most mature such systems in the United States. “COVID-19 just accelerated that conversation.”
Additionally, hospital systems, including Western Maryland facilities, across the state for months have been “trying to do incredible things to prepare (for COVID-19 growth) and in some cases at great expense for the hospital.”
Today, the new matching system is “tremendously helpful,” Delbridge said of the shared information that allows a sense of where specifically needed hospital space is available.
It is also an evolving work in progress.
“We’re building it as we go,” he said. “Every day is a learning opportunity.”
If a hospital is stressed and doesn’t have space to accommodate a new patient, time can vary from roughly four to 45 minutes depending on the patient’s needs before a new facility is located and transport is arranged.
In addition to the new center, programs including the use of “clinical externs” have been created to help with staffing challenges as medical workers face quarantine from COVID-19 exposure.
“This is one of my best success stories ever,” Delbridge said. “If I could sing from the mountaintops how extraordinary the nursing schools are in Maryland, I would do it at the top of my lungs.”
The idea was to create an opportunity for health sciences students to participate in the response to the pandemic, he said.
“With the help of the Maryland Higher Education Commission, we contacted every nursing school in the state,” Delbridge said. “Every one of them participated with enthusiasm.”
Those schools identified and prioritized which students could work in a practical setting.
“We have credentialed almost 900 of those people in the state of Maryland since the springtime,” he said. “We update that list weekly.”
To help lessen stress on the medical care system, people should “please please please” get a seasonal flu shot, wear a mask, wash their hands, social distance and prepare to get a COVID-19 vaccination when it becomes available, Delbridge said.
While people are tired of being told what to do including avoiding family gatherings until the pandemic is under control, “the short-term pleasure of doing those things that we count on being able to do routinely just isn’t worth the long-term agony that (they’ll) cause.”
Loans to be forgiven
While the country is clearly experiencing a post-Thanksgiving surge in COVID-19 cases, the worst days of the pandemic are ahead, Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday.
Maryland has had 225,855 confirmed COVID-19 cases including 20 straight days with more than 2,000 cases per day.
“Today, for the first time, all 24 of our jurisdictions are in the red zone for case rates,” Hogan said. “The virus has taken the lives of over 289,000 Americans and 4,850 Marylanders. And the United States, we reached the grim milestone of more than 3,000 COVID-19 deaths in a single day.”
Despite crippling impacts the disease has had on the economy, Congress has failed to provide additional emergency relief for struggling families and small businesses, he said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Thursday signaled “no GOP support” for an emerging COVID-19 aid package, the Associated Press reported.
“While we continue to wait for Congress to finally get its act together, today we’re taking a series of additional state actions to help businesses struggling to hang on to avoid the prospect of more layoffs and to try to keep some businesses from going out of business,” he said.
In March, as part of Maryland’s first round of state economic relief, $75 million in emergency loans were provided to small businesses.
“Today, I have directed the Department of Commerce to take immediate action to forgive the entire $75 million in emergency small business debt,” Gov. Larry Hogan said. “These loans will be converted to grants and will not have to be paid back.”
Hogan on Thursday also signed an executive order to protect businesses from substantial increases and unemployment taxes.
The initiative will provide additional needed relief for many small businesses so they can stay in business and keep their employees on payrolls, he said.
Hogan also announced funding initiatives including $25 million for low-income housing projects, $12 million through the rental housing works program to spur projects and create jobs for construction workers and related industries across the state, and $10 million for various industries such as law enforcement and youth services.
“We’re urging county governments to match the relief dollars that we have provided at the state level, and again we are encouraging them to push out every single penny of their remaining CARES Act funding out into our economy and into the hands of people who desperately need it in the next few weeks before it runs out at the end of this year.”
The state will also commit $94 million in grants and investments to help treat Marylanders with diabetes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“More than one out of every three Marylanders either has diabetes or pre-diabetes, which puts them at a much greater risk, and is the number one comorbidity for people getting serious illness from COVID-19,” Hogan said. “With these investments, hospitals and their community health partners will be able to launch comprehensive community-based prevention and treatment initiatives, and CareFirst will work with local health improvement coalitions to combat social and health disparities for people who have diabetes or who are at higher risk for diabetes.”