UM hospitals plan for 'expected increase' in COVID-19 patients

EASTON — University of Maryland Shore Regional Health, in anticipation of its hospitals being “busier in the coming months” than in the spring amid increasing COVID-19 spread, is regularly reevaluating its surge plans to address staffing shortages, the hospital system’s spokesperson said.

UM Shore Regional Health reported 15 confirmed COVID-19 infected patients last week hospitalized across its three hospitals in Easton, Chestertown and Cambridge, according to spokesperson Trena Williamson.

Williamson said it’s not the most coronavirus-positive patients the hospitals have seen since the pandemic began, but she confirmed there were additional COVID-19 tests pending among patients. The number of cases and pending tests within the hospitals, she said, changes “by the minute.”

With virus-related hospitalizations on the Eastern Shore and across Maryland already surpassing those reported during the virus’s rise in the spring, the UM Shore Regional Health reportedly has multiple strategies to address its staffing challenges as the area heads into an expected further increase in admissions to inpatient care.

“With the wider community spread of COVID this fall, we are planning for our hospitals to be busier in the coming months, both with COVID and non-COVID patients, than we were during the spring,” Williamson said.

She said hospitals are “typically very busy” this time of year, but the pandemic will likely add to that busyness this year.

To help its already stretched-thin staff accommodate surges in patients, the health care system has the ability to redeploy personnel to areas of need throughout the larger University of Maryland Medical System, change the ratio of nurses or providers assigned to each patient and offer extra shifts for staff members.

UM Shore Regional Health did not specify from where redeployed staffers might come if needed or how staff are compensated for overtime work, but “there are incentives for extra work” and the system has existing “external relationships” to house out-of-area personnel who relocate to fill a staffing need.

Dr. William Huffner, the system’s vice president of medical affairs and chief medical officer, said it has been a challenge to provide respite for the hospitals’ staff while demand for care has been heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is a very difficult thing to make sure we’re caring not only for our patients but our team members and people who are at the forefront, but we do work really hard to make sure everyone is cared for at the highest quality possible,” Huffner said.

He attributed a portion of recent staffing obstacles to “an element of COVID fatigue” he said is occurring “across Maryland, UMMS and our nation.”

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