July 8, 2020

How these New York hospitals are rescheduling thousands of surgeries

Daily Briefing

    When America's coronavirus epidemic first spiked in March, hospitals nationwide began canceling scheduled surgeries to preserve staff and supplies for Covid-19 patients—meaning thousands of patients had to wait months to undergo important medical procedures. Here's how some hospitals are starting to resume scheduled surgeries while keeping both patients and providers safe.

    Just updated: Covid-19 elective surgery cancelation impact estimator

    How hospitals are resuming scheduled surgeries

    On June 8, New York's Department of Health allowed hospitals in New York City—which had been an early epicenter of America's coronavirus outbreak—to resume scheduled surgeries. The state hadn't permitted hospitals in New York City to perform scheduled surgeries since March 23, and some of the city's busiest facilities had amassed backlogs of thousands of patients who had been waiting for medical procedures. In many cases, those patients' conditions had been deteriorating.

    The Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), for example, said it had a backlog of around 7,000 patients waiting for scheduled surgeries as of late May. "These are patients who were canceled for surgery back in March, and what may have been elective then is no longer elective because their condition has deteriorated," HSS CEO Louis Shapiro said.

    Shapiro noted that "[t]housands of patients [HSS had] canceled months ago [have] started to come back slowly." And as patients have returned, HSS has reopened some of its ORs, taken extra care to thoroughly disinfect areas that had been used to treat Covid-19 patients, and replaced anesthesia machines that the hospital had converted into makeshift ventilators to treat critically ill Covid-19 patients.

    Northwell Health also has seen its volume of surgery patients increase since June 8 at its hospitals in Long Island and Westchester, New York. And like HSS, Michael Dowling, Northwell's CEO, said the health system is working to accommodate the influx of surgery patients while still maintaining physical distancing and other protocols intended to keep patients and providers safe.

    "Recovery, as people call it, is in many ways more difficult than managing the crisis itself because we have to come back in a different way and make sure when we bring back surgery and other procedures, we do it safely," Dowling said. "The world is going to be quite different in every single medical facility going forward."

    And at Mount Sinai Health System, leaders have launched a "Safety Hub" on the system's website aimed at informing patients about the health system's safety procedures related to the new coronavirus and encouraging patients to reach out to their providers with specific questions.

    People "want to hear directly from their providers," Karen Wish, Mount Sinai's chief marketing officer, said.

    New safety changes aren't just limited to hospitals in New York. Hospitals throughout the country also are working to bring back patients in a safe manner.

    At Edward-Elmhurst Health in Illinois, for example, patients are asked to wear a face mask or covering, and staff members are meeting patients in the parking lot to take their temperature and ask patients a series of Covid-19 screening questions.

    Wendy Hayum-Gross, a patient who recently underwent blood testing at Edward-Elmhurst to help diagnose the cause of an underlying medical condition, said once she was screened for Covid-19 in the hospital's parking lot, "a phlebotomist met [her] on the other side of the door and took [her] to a chair that was still wet with disinfectant." Hayum-Gross said the phlebotomist "wore a mask and gloves, and there was no one else around."

    "When I saw the precautions they had put in place and the almost military precision with which they were carrying them out, I felt much better," Hayum-Gross said (LaMantia, Crain's New York Business/Modern Healthcare, 6/29; Graham, Kaiser Health News/New York Times, 6/30).

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