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Two legislators who represent Howard and Baltimore counties return to health care work amid coronavirus

The end of the legislative session proved challenging for the vast majority of State House representatives who worked in overdrive to pass more than 600 bills last month due to the coronavirus pandemic.

For two Maryland lawmakers who work in the medical field, the long hours didn’t end with the session’s early dismissal.

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In a statement, Senate President Bill Ferguson lauded state Sen. Clarence Lam, the Senate’s lone physician, for spearheading the state’s emergency COVID-19 response bill that authorized Gov. Larry Hogan to draw up to $100 million from state reserves and has extended temporary unemployment benefits for those whose jobs have been lost due to the pandemic.

“His efforts and willingness to put party aside were critical to get this legislation accomplished,” Ferguson said.

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Since the session ended, Lam has been working 12-hour days as the interim director of the Johns Hopkins Occupational Health Services, coordinating COVID-19 testing policies for roughly 50,000 Johns Hopkins employees.

“I don’t think our health care system was ever equipped to deal with the type of pandemic that we’re seeing right now,” the Columbia Democrat said. “The health care workforce is doing the best job that they can.”

Lam, who represents parts of Howard County and southwestern Baltimore County, treats patients who work within the Johns Hopkins Health System. During the pandemic, he is shouldering the task of coordinating the screening of health care workers who have potentially been exposed to the virus as well as handling the testing of symptomatic patients and treatment for those who are found to have contracted it.

In March, one Johns Hopkins Hospital provider was confirmed to have tested positive for the virus. Johns Hopkins was not able to say how many other employees have been tested for coronavirus or if any more had tested positively.

Lam, who has worked at Johns Hopkins since 2010, said he is still seeing some patients one on one, but during the pandemic his focus has been on forming policies “so employees who need to get tested have the ability to do so,” he said.

To that end, he’s helped prop up the 24-hour Employee COVID-19 Call Center.

If a health care worker contracts the virus, the goal is to get “them back into the workforce as soon as possible,” Lam said.

With the doors to her private practice closed to elective surgeries now prohibited by the state, Del. Terri Hill is seeking to ease the burden on area hospitals should they see a surge in coronavirus patients, forecast for late April.

The plastic surgeon has contacted local hospitals where she has privileges to offer her expertise in the emergency room, and is trying to make her Ellicott City office open to hospital patients who want to avoid large medical systems but need emergency care.

“I’m not really hearing much back,” Hill said.

While balancing efforts to apply for small business loans and continuing a dialogue with constituents, the Columbia Democrat who also represents parts of Baltimore County is waiting to be called on as a member of the Maryland Responds Medical Reserve Corps, the state’s "community-based, civilian, volunteer program” meant to activate within the public health infrastructure when additional help has been requested due to exhausted or overwhelmed local resources.

Hill joined a state medical reserve corps after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, she said, but was never called on to serve.

“I’m just waiting to be called up and trying to make sure I’m prepared,” she said.

According to the Maryland Department of Health, 12,653 volunteers are registered statewide with the medical reserve corps. A spokesman for the health department would not say how many have been called on to serve.

It’s interesting, Hill added, that “we’re hearing on the news about this great need [for medical professionals] and about how folks are being called out of retirement, and medical students are being advanced," but she and her colleagues in private practice are still waiting in the wings.

“We’re saying we’re here,” Hill said. “Why aren’t you calling on us?”

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