Today, Howard County Government announced a coordinated surge plan with Howard County General Hospital (HCGH). The surge plan focuses on three major aspects of operation: adding physical capacity to the hospital; tracking streamlining and purchasing vital equipment; and identifying and deploying staff to the hospital. Currently, HCGH has used no more than 20 percent of their capacity for COVID-19 patients, and only used 15 percent of available ventilators.

“During the course of this COVID-19 pandemic, together, we are flattening the curve in Howard County, slowing the spread, and preparing with Howard County General Hospital, should there be an overwhelming surge in our cases,” said County Executive Calvin Ball. “We have been working tirelessly with our Hospital and I want to thank President Steve Snelgrove and his team for their commitment and strategic actions. We are also grateful that we have a hospital that is part of the Johns Hopkins system, so we can avail of these statewide assets.”

To manage a surge of positive COVID-19 cases, the hospital is repurposing different spaces and units to create isolated areas for positive patients. During typical times, Howard County General Hospital is licensed to operate 255 beds, with 16 intensive care beds. Since the surge plan has been enacted, there are now 30 critical care beds, and there will be 40 by the end of the month.

Beds for COVID-19 positive patients, and those with symptoms who are waiting their diagnosis, need to be specially configured with negative pressure, plus safety staff and areas where staff can don and doff their gowns and other safety equipment. HCGH engineers have been working overtime to add ductwork and HEPA filters to convert regular patient rooms to ones with negative air pressure.

Not all COVID-19 patients require intensive care, but those patients in acute care beds need a higher standard to contain a highly infectious disease. Currently there are 110 beds available for non-critical COVID-19 patients. HCGH can also convert more space, including utilizing tents established outside the main entrance, allowing 47 more COVID-19 beds, for a total of 155. Howard County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is working with the State Hospital Surge Task Force and assisting in getting additional large tents to serve as additional medical capacity should all the adjustments within the hospital become maxed out.

“It has been an enormous undertaking to engineer, convert and provide staffing for the spaces we need to treat Covid-19 patients at Howard County General Hospital, and it has been a true team effort to develop and execute these plans,” said Steve Snelgrove, president of Howard County General Hospital. “Our collaborations and relationships with Howard County Government, the health department and first responders, backed by the surge capacity provided by the Johns Hopkins Health System has ensured that we are constantly communicating and making sure residents are tested and treated in the right setting. And as a member of Johns Hopkins Medicine, we have tremendous access to beds, critical care spaces and other resources to care for our community.”

Additionally, under a system-level COVID-19 plan, HCGH can and have transferred many patients to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Johns Hopkins Hospital is on track to add negative pressure capability for as many as 800 adult and pediatric beds.

Lastly, additional locations and facilities have been identified for overflow, including local hotels. If any emergency staff contracts coronavirus and cannot be home, or if there are homeless individuals that cannot safely isolate, hotels serve as potential locations for these needs. In the worst-case scenario, OEM is also ready to activate the gym at Howard Community College.

HCGH and Howard County are also working to identify all available nurses, physicians and medical technicians who can serve when there is a hospital surge. They are seeking retirees and all those available to sign up with the Medical Reserve Corps or call the Health Department warmline at 410-313-6284.

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Scott E