by Kate Shunney
Hospitals in Hagerstown and Cumberland are asking the public to help curb capacity problems as COVID and other seasonal illnesses are sending more patients to their doors.
UPMC Western Maryland has set up a medical tent outside their Emergency department doors to “expand care capability” for those coming for emergency treatment.
Public health experts widely predicted a surge in illness around the holidays, and as a result of the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus that’s now the dominant strain in the world.
“This tent is well equipped and will be staffed to help accommodate our patients,” the hospital said. It was up and running on Monday, January 3.
Hospital officials are urging patients with minor illnesses or injuries to seek care at their Urgent Care centers. They are also asking residents to get COVID testing at alternative locations, either at pharmacies or public health sites.
Officials with Meritus Health in Hagerstown were broadcasting a similar message this week, urging residents to seek medical care at their doctor’s office, an Urgent Care center or clinic in order to reduce pressure on the hospital’s Emergency Room and staff.
“Washington County, MD is currently experiencing extremely high levels of community transmission. The positivity rate as of 12/29/2021 is 22.56%, the highest level the county has experienced during the entire COVID-19 pandemic,” Meritus noted on their Coronavirus Information page.
According to data from the state health dashboard, Washington County saw 196 new confirmed cases of COVID between January 2 and January 3.
Hospital systems continue to recommend public measures to reduce the spread of the respiratory virus, from wearing masks indoors and in crowded spaces, washing hands frequently, becoming vaccinated or updating vaccination with a booster shot, and social distancing in general.
Amid a growing number of COVID patients seeking care at regional hospitals, health systems have been asking for support both from the public and from Maryland government leaders.
Last week, the Maryland Hospital Association asked Gov. Hogan to reinstate a public health emergency. That move, they said, would allow medical professionals to practice a wider range of duties, and for hospitals to get more funding for staffing.
The Washington County Health Department continues to hold vaccination clinics weekly at their Hagerstown location at 1302 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Clinics are held on Wednesdays from 1 to 7 p.m. An added clinic is being held this Friday, January 7 from 1 to 7 p.m. To register, call 240-313-3456, or walk in.
Clinics are also being held on Mondays at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Hagerstown from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Call 240-313-3456 to register.
The Boonsboro American Legion is also hosting vaccine clinics on the second and fourth Tuesdays from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call 240-313-3456 to register.
Drive-through COVID screening is available at Meritus Medical Plaza, 13620 Crayton Blvd. in Hagerstown, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Screening is available at no cost with no appointment needed.
“Over recent weeks, we’ve supported thousands of community members at our Drive-thru. Some days, close to 1,000 people come to us in need of a test,” Meritus officials have said.