Nonemergency medical procedures to resume Friday
Governor assures Virginians it's safe to seek health care
Virginia hospitals, outpatient care providers, dentists and veterinarians can resume performing elective surgeries and nonemergency procedures after a temporary ban expires at midnight Thursday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced during a news conference on Wednesday.
“I want to encourage all Virginians that your health care is important and I encourage you to resume that health care and we will together do it in a safe manner,” Northam said.
Several major health systems operating in Virginia, including Ballad Health, Bon Secours Mercy Health, Carilion Clinic, Inova Health System and U.Va. Health, have furloughed employees, reduced hours and instituted pay cuts in recent weeks as their revenues fell dramatically because medical care services not related to COVID-19 have fallen off by as much as 70% since the pandemic began.
The five-week ban on elective procedures, which went into effect on March 25, was ordered to preserve personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline medical workers and to prepare for a potential surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations, the governor said. At that time, Northam said, the state was worried about running out of hospital beds because it had a far lesser capacity for COVID-19 testing and didn’t yet have supply chains established to replenish PPE or procedures for sterilizing and reusing masks and surgical gowns.
“Because everyone has worked together, we have avoided that [surge],” Northam added. “Our efforts to slow the spread of this virus are showing success. Our hospitals have not been overwhelmed.”
“As we consider the current situation and the other medical needs of Virginia patients, we now believe the time is right to chart a path to begin providing nonemergency scheduled procedures to people who need that care in inpatient and outpatient settings to improve their health outcomes,” said Dr. Michael P. McDermott, president and CEO of Fredericksburg-based Mary Washington Healthcare and chairman of the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association’s board of directors. “Virginia hospitals have more than 5,000 available beds to meet patient needs and continue the care for those impacted by COVID-19.”
Addressing concerns that patients may have about getting potentially exposed to COVID-19 in health care settings, McDermott said, “Our hospitals follow best practice care and infection prevention protocols and are exceedingly safe facilities. It is important for all Virginians to know that if you need care, please do not hesitate to receive care to improve your health outcome.”
Dr. Elizabeth C. Reynolds, president of the Virginia Dental Association, said, “We are excited and prepared to open our offices and begin safely seeing our patients for comprehensive care. … I encourage anyone who may have had to postpone dental treatment or may be having a dental issue to call your dentist now and work with him or her to develop a dental treatment plan.”
State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said it may take a while for health care systems to be able to fully get back to business. “Having worked in major health care systems, it will take a while for the hospitals to actually ramp up,” he said, due to factors such as bringing back furloughed staff and having to order lab tests and imaging studies in preparation for surgical procedures.
“There’s a backlog of patients. This will occur over the first couple of weeks, you’ll see that ramping up,” Oliver said. “Most hospital systems have been hit very hard with the decrease in their occupancy, so some of them have already furloughed some employees. Part of preparing for reopening elective surgeries, perhaps, would be bringing some of those folks back.”
VCU Health issued a statement on Wednesday, listing preventative steps it’s taking, including testing every patient for COVID-19 prior to surgery and using telehealth appointments and drive-thru testing to reduce the time patients need to spend inside medical facilities and public waiting areas.
“We never stopped providing life-saving care at our hospitals, such as transplants, trauma surgeries or cancer care,” said Dr. Ron Clark, interim CEO of VCU Hospitals and Clinics. “For weeks, we have worked on a road map to resume elective surgeries and postponed procedures, with safety as our top priority. This plan is now activated, and we are in the process of reintroducing services gradually.”
Virginia Business Deputy Editor Kate Andrews contributed to this story.