At a briefing of the Prince George’s County Council, officials said hospitals in the county are reporting higher-than-average rates of fatalities and confirmed positive cases, the latest evidence that the deadly virus is disproportionately affecting African American communities.
The county has about 15 percent of Maryland’s population but a quarter of the state’s coronavirus cases. Data analyzed by The Washington Post shows that 11 of the 15 Zip codes in Maryland with the highest rates of infection are in Prince George’s.
Both Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly and MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center in Clinton had to send patients to other hospitals when their own critical care units filled, representatives said Tuesday.
The two hospitals, along with Doctors Community Hospital in Lanham and Fort Washington Medical Center, are rapidly adding beds by converting space inside their facilities and adding tents outside, officials said.
They said the number of patients in need of critical care is unprecedented.
“Prince George’s County is the epicenter of the state,” said Joseph Wright, interim chief executive of University of Maryland Capital Region Health, which oversees the hospital in Cheverly. “We have had to activate a very aggressive surge plan.”
The Cheverly facility began sending patients to other hospitals in the University of Maryland Medical System after seeing a “dramatic spike” in patients who needed critical care over the weekend, Wright said.
As of Tuesday at noon, there were 67 covid-19 patients being treated at Cheverly and 17 other patients who were showing symptoms of the virus but had not yet received test results. Wright said the mortality rate for covid-19 patients at the hospital is about 10 percent.
Min Godwin, the chief operating officer for University of Maryland Capital Region Health, said state projections show the 385-bed hospital in Cheverly could need as many as 287 more beds by April 25.
A reopened Laurel Regional Hospital will provide 90 beds by April 24, Godwin said, and the state is delivering tents and pods to Cheverly where intensive care patients can be treated in coming days.
Prince George’s hospitals “are going to have the highest incidence based on what the models are showing us,” said Paul R. Grenaldo, president of the 200-bed Doctors Community Hospital, where there were 36 patients in need of critical care but only 24 critical-care beds.
“We are going to continue to need access to PPE [personal protective equipment], we are going to continue to need access to staff,” Grenaldo said. “Because right now I’m staffed for my 200 beds — but if I go to 500 beds, then I don’t have all those nurses here. That’s where the real crisis will come.”
Grenaldo said the hospital will add 51 beds by the end of the week in the recently closed Magnolia Nursing Home, which is next door. In addition, private rooms in one tower of the hospital are being converted to semiprivate rooms, creating space for 140 additional patients.
At MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center in Clinton, 43 critically ill patients had to be moved to other MedStar facilities, said Chile Ahaghotu, vice president of medical affairs. The hospital has recently expanded its capacity to accommodate more intensive care patients and continues to add beds.
Ahaghotu said 63 covid-19 patients are being treated at MedStar Southern, 13 in intensive care. He said the hospital’s mortality rate from the disease has ticked upward, to 7.8 percent.
But there also has been good news, he added: Nine pregnant women who had tested positive for covid-19 have all recovered, and one new mother was recently able to safely hold her baby.
Fort Washington Medical Center, a 37-bed hospital that recently joined the Adventist HealthCare System, added a tent in its parking lot to accommodate the influx of patients, said Eunmee Shim, the hospital’s president.
Eight covid-19 patients were treated in the tent over the weekend, she said, adding that when she walked through the area, the patients said they were comfortable.
Shim said some of the most critically ill patients are being sent to larger hospitals but that staff members learned early that they would not be able to transfer all of their patients to other facilities and began preparing to treat critical care patients at the medical center.
When the crisis started, she said, the hospital had three “negative-pressure” rooms, which keep the virus out of adjacent areas. Staff have used duct tape and filters to create eight additional negative-pressure rooms, Shim said.
At least 42 more beds — and as many as 240 more — will be needed to accommodate a potential surge at the hospital, Shim said, based on the state’s projection models.
“This is almost an impossible task,” she said, referring to the upper end of the projection.
John D. Harden contributed to this report.