Upper Chesapeake declares "hospital disaster" after influx of COVID patients

Posted at 5:12 PM, Dec 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-27 18:04:28-05

BEL AIR, Md (WMAR) — 130 more people were hospitalized from COVID-19 Sunday to Monday. It’s the largest daily increase since the first weeks of the pandemic, causing some hospitals to take drastic measures.

In an unprecedented move for them, the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center declared a hospital disaster on Christmas Eve, using Crisis Standards of Care (CSC) protocols that mean delayed surgeries and longer wait times.

“This is the worst it has been from both COVID and non-COVID volumes and staffing, so it is the trifecta,” said Dr. Fermin Barrueto, Chief Medical Officer for UM Upper Chesapeake Health (UCH).

The Upper Chesapeake Medical Center saw a 733 percent increase in COVID cases in one month, coupled with flu and RSV cases and the nursing shortage, the demand for care is depleting resources.

The CSC protocols are meant to help the hospital continue taking care of the sickest patients, and includes streamlining processes, simplifying documentation and stretching an already depleted workforce by sing non-clinical staff or non-conventional staff in clinical areas.

Dr. Barrueto said they’ve also canceled dozens of elective surgeries, all but eliminating any that require an overnight bed and limiting others.

“They are your hip replacements, your knee replacements that yes, maybe they could wait days or weeks but that is an ailment for a patient that they are trying to get taken care of,” said Dr. Barrueto.

This is all so they can continue to provide timely care for emergent patients, for instance those experiencing heart attacks or strokes, but it means much longer wait times for lower acuity patients.

“We have seen and heard across the state wait times of 6, 10, 12, 14 hours,” said Dr. Barrueto. “I’ve never seen anything like this in the 20 years that I’ve been an emergency physician.”

With over 1,700 COVID hospitalizations statewide, UCH officials said they will not be the last to implement these crisis standards. Harford Memorial is very close to needing to take this step, already cutting back on surgeries too.

Dr. Barrueto expects things will only get worse after the holidays so he is asking the community to take mitigation measures seriously so more changes don’t have to be made.

“From the vaccinations, boosters, masking, washing your hands, testing, just good common sense practices; that’s how you can help us help you,” said Dr. Barrueto.

UM UCH doctors are looking to reschedule elective surgeries come February because they expect they will have to operate under these conditions for the entire month of January.