Baltimore to turn downtown convention center, hotel into field hospital amid coronavirus pandemic

The Baltimore Convention Center on West Pratt Street and the adjacent city-owned Hilton Hotel will be converted to a field hospital to accommodate a surge in patients amid the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Monday.

A joint partnership between the University of Maryland Medical System and Johns Hopkins Medicine will operate the hospital, which is being set up by the Maryland National Guard. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to provide at least 250 beds for the sites.


“My administration is marshaling every tool in the arsenal of public health to combat and slow the spread of this pandemic,” Hogan said as he outlined a sweeping new set of measures Maryland will take to combat the spread of the virus.

The Republican governor did not say when the facility was expected to open.


Opening the field hospital is part of Hogan’s plan to add 6,000 hospital beds in the state to accommodate an anticipated surge in patients needing treatment due to the coronavirus. The first phase, he said, has yielded 900 more beds that are immediately available. Another 1,400 beds should be ready by early April.

The plan for more beds includes re-opening the Laurel Regional Hospital, which will be able to accommodate 135 patients “in short order,” Hogan said.

After it was acquired by the University of Maryland Medical System in 2017, Laurel Regional was converted to an outpatient medical center and its acute care functions were transferred to Capital Region Medical Center in Cheverly.

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But with the coronavirus outbreak, hospitals have been rushing to meet Hogan’s calls for more beds, canceling surgeries and moving patients and their procedures to outpatient facilities.

The planned 250 beds to be added in downtown Baltimore barely scratches the capacity available between the hotel and convention center. The city-owned Hilton Baltimore offers 757 rooms, while the convention center spans 1.2 million square feet. Conventions and other scheduled events have been canceled or postponed, making the hotel’s rooms and center’s halls available for use.

The governor also said health care providers are to cease elective procedures and prioritize coronavirus testing for patients who are hospitalized.

Hogan also outlined plans for more drive-through testing sites.

His administration has five converted vehicle emission inspection centers “ready to immediately open” as soon as the state can secure testing kits, protective equipment and lab capability. Also, he said, the Prince George’s County Health Department is working with the state to set up a drive-through screening station at FedEx Field in Landover.


Hogan said he issued orders Monday to authorize a process to “fast track” more testing capability in Maryland without waiting for federal action or approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Although the governor said “this will dramatically shorten” the timeline, he did not describe what the actions will involve. The governor acknowledged the personal sacrifices being made by those who work in health care.

“I just want to take a moment to say thank you to the countless health care professionals, the doctors, and the nurses, the first responders, who are on the front lines every day, working around the clock to help keep us safe,” Hogan said.