Thursday, May 21, 2020

Did Montgomery County really add 500 hospital beds for coronavirus patients?

A week after declaring surge 
capacity met, County now says 
there aren't enough beds to
reopen Montgomery County

Montgomery County officials attempted to address growing concerns over their lack of defined strategy for ending the coronavirus lockdown yesterday. In a streamed Zoom meeting, County Executive Marc Elrich said he thought the current statistics might point toward reopening the county in one or two weeks. But one number that Health Director Travis Gayles expressed concern about was ICU hospital bed capacity, and that four of the county's hospitals were at-capacity for ICU beds over the last week. This would make it difficult to handle a surge in new patients if a new wave of Covid-19 infections were to break out a few weeks after the Stay-at-Home order would be lifted.

Now, you may remember the county was 500 beds short of the projected need when the coronavirus pandemic began. On April 1, with great fanfare from their friends in the local media, the Montgomery County Council declared it was appropriating $10 million for county hospitals to add those 500 beds. Keep in mind, this is several hospitals' worth of beds.

To those more skeptical than our local press, this sounded like a hefty degree of magical thinking. If you know anything about construction, the regulatory hoops alone would have tied such expansion up for months. Permits would have to be processed, construction work would have to pass inspection. Not to mention that the work would have to be put out for bid, contractors selected, etc. The very expensive beds themselves - and all related equipment that is needed for each bed, particularly in an ICU setting - have to be ordered and shipped.

Just last week, Gayles told Bethesda Magazine in an email that - incredibly - this David Copperfield act had been magically pulled off. In only 41 days, Gayles wrote, Montgomery County hospitals had added all 500 beds. Interestingly, with all of the news cameras hanging out at local hospitals these days, we never saw footage of these new rooms or wings being opened on the TV news.

Ten days ago, we were told we had enough beds to handle a coronavirus surge. Yesterday, still under lockdown before any such surge has even taken place, we were told that a lack of bed capacity is now a primary reason the County cannot reopen its economy.

Something doesn't add up here.

Photo courtesy Hill-Rom


  1. "Gayles wrote that hospitals freed up bed space through reconfigurations, canceling elective medical procedures and identifying other spaces to support patients."

    1. No, they were given $10 million to add 500 beds. The 500 beds did not exist so they couldn't be "freed up."

    2. So, are you saying this is a lie? What's your point?

    3. Many emerency facilities use less expensive beds, like these
      If they cancel all elective procedures, for example, then they have unused space to use for coronavirus patients without needing construction permits. It seems reasonable to be, but you are much better than me at finding conspiracies and moribundity.

  2. Does anyone no if they include as part of Moco's bed capacity the beds at Walter Reed / NIH? My guess is they don't, but you would think that in an emergency those beds could be made available. Maybe they could work something out with the federal gov't?