Rural Maryland Health Care Coalition Accelerates Information Sharing during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Western Maryland (Garrett, Allegany, Washington and Frederick Counties in Western Maryland)
Even during normal operations, rural communities often face greater resource challenges than their urban counterparts. A relatively small incident in an urban area can be a large disaster for a small rural region. As the rate of hospitalizations increased due to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), health care facilities in all regions of Maryland, and particularly those in rural areas, began to experience elevated demand for personal protective equipment (PPE). The core members of the Regions I & II Healthcare Coalition, which are located in rural areas across Garrett, Allegany, Washington, and Frederick counties in western Maryland, relied heavily on their HCC for guidance on how to mitigate resource shortfalls and reports that this will continue to be critical in preparing for additional cases of COVID-19.
Regions I & II Healthcare Coalition covers four counties in a predominantly rural area of western Maryland and serves a population of over 500,000 people. This coalition is comprised of a local health department and an acute care hospital in each county, as well as emergency management agencies, community health centers, state mental health facilities, long-term care facilities, a community college, and many other entities. HPP funding has enabled Regions I & II Healthcare Coalition to be a vital resource and information-sharing platform for health care and emergency management agencies in their region. The coalition communicates daily with all coalition members, including core agencies, and has taken a variety of steps to proactively anticipate reduced capacity to treat COVID-19, including:
Taps into local joint information centers (JIC) and emergency operation centers (EOC) through conference calls and JIC releases to ensure that all coalition members have situational awareness of the spread of COVID-19 at the county level;
Performs weekly check-ins with coalition members and
compiles their response activities into an HCC situation report which then informs a broader Maryland HCC report sent to the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA); and
Conducts monthly coalition meetings to share COVID-19 response updates and provide a platform to raise any unmet resourcing needs.
The coalition meetings have also given hospitals and local health departments the critical opportunity to share PPE and other resources when available, which may not have occurred otherwise. Regions I & II Healthcare Coalition also funnels information from a variety of other sources to its core agencies and coalition members, including:
Inpatient situation reports from Brook Lane, a mental health facility in Washington County, which provides insight into the pandemic from a behavioral health perspective;
Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems (MIEMSS) daily bed status reports of each hospital by region, which provides coalition members with awareness of hospital capacity throughout the state;
Maryland Department of Health Data Dashboard, which is updated on a daily basis to provide updates to case counts, testing volume, bed capacity, etc.;
Maryland Governor’s Office COVID-19 press releases pertaining to state closures/reopening’s, testing efforts, and other pertinent COVID-19 information;
Orders from the Maryland Secretary of Health;
ASPR Health Care Readiness Bulletin and ASPR Technical Resources, Assistance Center, and Information Exchange (TRACIE) updates, which includes lessons learned and promising practices related to the COVID-19 response, such as tips on how to manage cases in midst of hurricane season; and
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 guidance updates, especially as it pertains to infection control, updates to stay-at-home orders, etc.
Coalition members have expressed their appreciation for these resources, particularly those focused on infection control and PPE conservation, and look to the coalition for frequent updates on state public health measures and CDC guidance.
By activating its coalition response plans in early March, Regions I & II Healthcare Coalition has also successfully transitioned to operating effectively in a virtual environment, ensuring uninterrupted access to data and information for its core members. Regions I & II Healthcare Coalition is currently reviewing these coalition response plans as well as their resource management plan for enhancements, both to aid in initial recovery and to prepare for additional COVID-19 infections. Looking forward, this HCC will continue to prioritize communicating supply chain shortages and partnering with state-level agencies on future case count modeling. Regions I & II Healthcare Coalition hopes to use future HPP funding towards both a coalition PPE cache and the acquisition of a warehouse to store these materials.