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Meritus is on alert status. Here's what that means.

While the number of patients at Meritus Medical Center is "quite high," the hospital says it does not turn away people who need care.

Because of the relatively high number of patients, the Meritus emergency department has been placed on alert from time to time.

That was the situation Thursday when the hospital posted a notice on Facebook saying it does not turn away anyone. The Washington County Health Department and others shared the post.

Maryland hospitals use the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services System alert system. Dr. Aaron George, chief medical officer at Meritus, said the system signals to emergency medical service crews and medical transport companies, such as ambulances, the hospital's capacity at any given time.

A yellow alert, for example, means that a hospital emergency department is asking that patients who need urgent attention be taken to another facility, if that can be done safely. A red alert indicates that a hospital has no beds equipped with electrocardiogram equipment — often called EKG — available.

"This helps EMS make decisions on where best to take patients based on treatment needs," George said in an email. "Nearly every acute-care hospital emergency department in the state has gone on yellow alert at some point in 2021. The number of times this alert has been used at Meritus Medical Center is significantly lower than other emergency departments across the state. Alerts are reported on miemssalert.com/chats regularly."

That website listed Meritus as on yellow and red alert status at about 3:20 p.m. Thursday. Frederick Health Hospital and University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Easton were on yellow alert.

“Since Monday of this week, more than 700 emergency department visits have been recorded at Meritus Medical Center, and 93% of the EMS transports in our region came here," George said.

In the Facebook post, Meritus said that its emergency department doors "do not close to ambulances or emergency patient cases." The alert system notifies emergency medical services and transport companies that "to the high number of patients in-house so that other options may be considered for non-emergent needs."

In Thursday's email, George added, "Our emergency department does not turn people away who come here for treatment. Wait times may be long, but the team of health care professionals in the ED work to screen everyone who comes through the doors there, prioritize patients’ needs and provide quality care and treatment as safely as possible.”

Meritus listed 269 patients in the hospital as of Thursday morning. The number includes 43 with COVID-19.

The COVID number "is high and increasing daily," George wrote, but "many other conditions play a factor in the high census we are now seeing."

Meritus reported having 18 patients in the intensive care unit and 13 on ventilators. According to the report, seven COVID patients were in the ICU and six were on ventilators.

"While Meritus Medical Center’s census of patients is currently quite high, we have surge plans to allow for additional beds in-house if needed," George wrote.

The Meritus website lists the facility as an acute-care hospital with 257 beds. The surge plans allow the hospital to expand to up to 300 beds, if needed.

This story was first published in The Herald-Mail, August 2021.

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