Local hospital systems will soon resume nonemergency and elective surgeries, after Gov. Greg Abbott lifted some restrictions this past week that had postponed the procedures to prepare for a surge in people with COVID-19.
Abbott relaxed surgery restrictions he implemented March 22 to allow for nonemergency surgeries, as long as hospitals reserve at least 25% of their capacity to treat people with COVID-19. His April 17 order also mandates that hospitals cannot request any personal protective equipment from any public source during “the COVID-19 disaster.”
Ascension Providence will resume nonemergency but medically necessary surgeries Monday, and Baylor Scott & White Health has started contacting people to reschedule procedures.
“We’re truly not going to be open for business with everything we do for some time,” Ascension Providence President Philip Patterson said. “We’ve got to make sure safety is our first focus, not only for the patients and their families but for our own individual associates and our physicians. We are taking a very cautious approach to opening back up, but realizing there are individuals who have been delayed long enough and to delay further would cause them potential harm.”
Ascension Providence will start scheduled surgeries and procedures after patients receive a negative COVID-19 test, prioritizing more urgent situations in which people are at risk for further medical complications, Patterson said. The hospital will maintain many safety measures already in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as limiting visitors and taking the temperature of everyone entering the hospital.
Baylor Scott & White also will “safely care” for people coming in for surgeries, such as people who need biopsies for possible cancer diagnoses, while maintaining an adequate supply of personal protective equipment, according to a statement.
For the past month, Ascension Providence has been performing less than 25% of its normal operating room volume since postponing many procedures, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Becker said. It will take a while for the hospital to get to everyone who has been waiting, as it eases back into regular operations.
“We will slowly begin to turn that faucet back on,” he said. “We’re going to do this gradually over the next three to four weeks, and we hope to be back to normal capacity in that three-to-four week window.”
Becker said the elective surgeries that the hospital will resume are not frivolous or unimportant procedures. They differ from emergency surgeries in that they can be scheduled, but they are medically necessary because people’s conditions cannot be fixed without the surgery.
For example, Ascension Providence will prioritize people who need a joint replacement and whose conditions have “remarkably degenerated” to the point they have to use a wheelchair because they can no longer walk on their own, Becker said. Those people are at risk for blood clots and other problems because of their limited mobility.
“We’ve asked people to live with pain and discomfort for the last month, and it is important that we begin to figure out how to address these people who have painful conditions that need to be fixed,” he said.
All Ascension Providence patients with scheduled surgeries must test negative for COVID-19 at least 48 hours before their planned surgery date and will be asked to self-quarantine until their surgery.
Additionally, Ascension Providence will continue a number of safety measures already in place, including advanced telehealth capabilities for virtual care, universal masking, hospital visitor restrictions, social distancing and screening everyone upon entry, including temperature check for 99.5 degrees, according to a press release. Associates or patients with symptoms will be referred for testing.
Ascension Providence will also conduct “terminal cleaning,” a specific intensive disinfecting procedure, at the hospital before resuming surgeries, and the hospital will have a dedicated, separate entrance for all surgical patients.