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Cutting long emergency room wait times is the goal of $40 million expansion plans at Howard County Medical Center

Derek Beasley has your Tuesday evening forecast (3/12/2024)
Derek Beasley has your Tuesday evening forecast (3/12/2024) 02:49

ELLICOTT CITY -- It's no secret emergency rooms in Maryland have long wait times. A state board found earlier in the fall the average wait time is around eight hours.

Johns Hopkins Howard County Medical Center, Howard County's only hospital, is trying to solve the issue, going over plans to expand capacity with Howard County Council on Tuesday.

The hospital's president, Dr. Shafeeq Ahmed, stressed capacity is a big obstacle and contributor to the hospital's ER wait times.

He added they have plans in motion, hoping the county can help with some of the cost. Howard County Council responded with hesitation.

When it comes to a medical emergency, some people WJZ met said they avoid the hospital because of how long the wait can be.

"My primary care physician said don't come to the hospital, go to Patient First or another urgent care facility," said Beverly Bryon of Ellicott City. "Going to the hospital is not an option." 

The average ER wait time at Johns Hopkins Howard County Medical can be around 13 hours, according to data from the Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission.  

Talking with Howard County Council at its monthly meeting, Ahmed said the hospital is seeing more mental health patients in the ER. Also, more ER patients are needing to stay overnight.

The hospital's emergency bay, which can help 36 people at a time, is often filled 95-99 percent, according to Ahmed.

"The truth is, there's only so much I can push on the process if capacity doesn't exist within the facility. We do have to make sure that stuff works out as well," Ahmed said.

Ahmed also detailed reconstruction projects the hospital is doing, like adding more space for its behavioral health unit and more than doubling the number of beds for the observational unit.

"We estimate probably a decrease by at least 30 percent of some of the wait times we have now because [we're] simply moving patients out of the physical emergency department," he said. "Being able to see people who don't have to be admitted, which is the vast majority of people, and as they get assessed and move on I think that will decrease time."

The cost for both projects is around $40 million. Howard County has given $2 million already, and in its proposed budget, another $16 million could be committed.

But, District 5 councilman David Yungmann said it may be hard to get that money to the hospital.

"We're gonna have people screaming for a lot of stuff they're not going to get, and they have nowhere else to look other than Howard County government," Yungmann said.

Johns Hopkins Howard County Medical Center sees around 76,000 patients in its emergency room every year, according to Ahmed.

Reconstruction for the behavioral health unit broke ground last December, expecting to be ready by the end of this year.

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