Two Maryland hospitals declare health care ‘disaster’ amid rising cases

Two Maryland hospitals declared a health care “disaster” on Friday as COVID-19 cases continue to rise at the Old Line State facilities.

University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health made the declaration for the Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air and the Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace, according to The Washington Post.

The declaration gives the facilities the ability to adjust surgery schedules and reassign staff to address the hospitals’ increasing needs, according to the Post.

Coronavirus cases have jumped 458 percent this past month between the two hospitals, according to the newspaper. At the Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, COVID-19 cases have surged 733 percent.

Fermin Barrueto, a senior vice president at Upper Chesapeake Health, told the Post in an interview that “the demand for our services has outstripped our resources, which includes staffing.”

He said “burnout” and “moral distress” are fueling the staff shortages.

“We did not take this decision lightly,” he said, adding that the situation “has been a challenge.”

Barrueto told the newspaper that the declaration is expected to continue for “days, weeks, but your guess is as good as mine.”

The declaration comes amid a surge in COVID-19 cases nationwide, driven in part by the highly transmissible omicron variant. The strain, which was first identified in South Africa last month, has since spread widely across the globe.

Upper Chesapeake Health spokeswoman Martha Mallonee told the Post in an email that the hospital system does not make its case count public “because they change too much hour by hour.”

She did, however, reveal that between 75 and 80 percent of the patients admitted to the hospitals because of COVID-19 infections have been unvaccinated.

Coronavirus cases are on the rise in Maryland. The state reported 6,869 positive tests on Thursday, according to the Post, which was the highest one-day tally since the pandemic began in March 2020.

The state also surpassed 1,500 COVID-19 hospitalizations this week, according to a tweet from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), which triggered additional hospital actions.

Hogan, in a statement on Thursday, said state projections show that Maryland, in the coming weeks, “could reach record levels of COVID-19 hospitalizations,” potentially eclipsing 2,000.

“We have been actively preparing for this scenario in coordination with all of our hospitals, and today’s actions are the latest step in that planning,” said Hogan who tested positive for a COVID-19 breakthrough case earlier this week.

He urged Maryland residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19, noting that those who have not received the jab are “driving the strain” on hospitals.

“With unvaccinated patients driving the strain on our health care system, we urge Marylanders to do your part in getting your vaccine or booster shot as soon as you can,” Hogan said.

“We will continue to closely monitor this surge, and take additional actions as needed,” he added.

The Hill reached out to Upper Chesapeake Health for more information.