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County giving hospitals $10 million for supplies, construction costs

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$250,000 more to help pay for hotel rooms for hospital staff, first responders

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Montgomery County will give $10 million to hospitals to purchase supplies and cover construction costs. An additional $250,000 will help cover the cost of hotel rooms for medical staff and first responders. Pictured is Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, where outdoor tents were set up to triage patients with symptoms of the coronavirus.

Photo from Holy Cross Hospital

To help local hospitals prepare for a potential surge in coronavirus cases, Montgomery County leaders are providing them with $10 million to purchase medical supplies and help cover construction costs for converting non-clinical spaces into treatment areas.

The money will be taken from the general fund reserves and given to the county’s health department and Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security to divide among the six hospitals in the county.

The County Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve all of the funds for the hospitals and hotel rooms.

Those hospitals include Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Shady Grove Medical Center in Rockville, Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring and Germantown, White Oak Medical Center in Silver Spring, and MedStar Montgomery Medical Center in Olney.

In addition to those funds, the county also approved $250,000 to help book more hotel rooms for hospital staff, first responders and other front-line staff in the county.

Out of the $10 million fund, hospitals could expand their staff or purchase ventilators, hospital beds, masks, tents, or other supplies.

Council Member Hans Riemer said Adventist HealthCare, which operates White Oak and Shady Grove, told him beds could be added at White Oak, but would need support from the county.

Riemer said the county would seek reimbursement later.

“From an economic perspective, the best thing we could do is build an effective health system to manage the crisis,” he said. “The faster we can get the virus under control, the sooner the private sector can begin to rebound.”

An extra 500 hospital beds are needed to add to the local hospitals’ approximate count of 1,500 beds. The beds would help increase capacity in the event of a surge of coronavirus cases during the pandemic.

County and hospital officials have also looked at nursing homes, assisted living facilities, conference centers, hotels, and other locations as potential places to find or add beds.

Dr. Earl Stoddard, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, told Bethesda Beat on Friday that there are several unfinished floors and observation areas in some of the local hospitals that could be converted to treatment areas.

Council Member Gabe Albornoz said it’s only a matter of time before the county sees a local peak and in preparation, the hospitals organized a centralized inventory of supplies and materials.

“We are all trying to serve as resources for these critically important institutions during this critically important time,” he said.

Riemer said the hotel rooms will help medical staff and first responders allow employees to rest between long shifts that can be as long as 18 hours.

A system will be created to allow hospitals to book rooms for employees through a link provided by Visit Montgomery, which is organizing the effort. The county is seeking to spend $25 per room each night, according to Riemer.

Council Member Nancy Navarro said that with the fast-moving crisis, the county is still finding ways to respond to the chaos.

“Whatever we can do to assist and to help and to alleviate some of this stress that [hospital staff and first responders are] going through right now, I think we need to do it,” she said.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.

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