Northam extends ban on elective surgeries until May 1
Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association argues ban has lasted long enough.
Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday extended the ban on elective surgeries at Virginia hospitals until May 1, despite the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association’s (VHHA) letter sent to Northam urging him not to extend the executive order.
Northam issued Order of Health Public Emergency Two on March 25, prohibiting non-emergency medical procedures in an effort to preserve in-demand personal protective equipment (PPE) needed for medical workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic. The order was originally set to expire tomorrow, Friday April 24. The governor and State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said they needed more time to evaluate the easing restrictions and also to secure more PPE.
“We have increased our supply of PPE, but before we allow elective surgeries to resume, we must first be assured that the doctors, nurses, and medical staff who are fighting this virus or conducting emergency surgeries have the necessary supplies,” Northam said. “We are working with medical facilities on plans to ensure that we can resume elective surgeries safely and responsibly.”
The VHHA, however, said that the elective surgery ban has preserved enough PPE and freed up enough hospital bed space and should be ended immediately.
“Virginia’s hospitals voluntarily postponed non-urgent medical procedures on March 18 out of an abundance of caution, to preserve personal protective equipment and free up bed space to prepare for the fight against COVID-19,” Julian Walker, VHHA vice president of communications, said in response to Northam’s extended ban Thursday evening. “In the five weeks since, circumstances have changed. Our hospital members have available staff, thousands of beds and ventilators, and access to PPE to accommodate both COVID and non-COVID patient treatment needs.”
The VHHA estimated Thursday that 60,000 inpatient and outpatient procedures have been deferred in Virginia. As of Thursday, Virginia hospitals are treating 1,379 COVID-19 patients, have 5,327 beds available and have 2,264 ventilators available to provide respiratory support to patients, according to the VHHA COVID-19 Data Dashboard.
“While the crisis is far from over and COVID-19 will continue to be the primary focus of our hospitals and health care providers for the foreseeable future, we are mindful of the tens of thousands of Virginians who have deferred care for chronic conditions and other non-urgent medical needs,” VHHA President and CEO Sean T. Connaughton wrote in the letter to Northam. “We are concerned that continuing to delay their care while we have available capacity to address and/or stabilize their conditions will have long-term negative impacts on health across the commonwealth.”
As a result of declining revenues from canceled elective surgeries and drastically decreased patient traffic, many hospital systems, including Ballad Health, Bon Secours Mercy Health, Carilion Clinic and Inova Health System, have each furloughed hundreds of employees and instituted other measures such as executive pay cuts.
“We believe [the Virginia hospital community is] in a position to resume serving the estimated 15,000 Virginia patients who each week are being forced to delay needed medical procedures like colonoscopies, mammograms, and other important care,” Walker said of Northam’s extended ban. “Like their counterparts in at least 17 other states that are moving to resume non-emergency procedures … Virginia hospitals and health systems have the capacity to meet the medical treatment needs of thousands of patients who need essential procedures that have been postponed due to the pandemic while also maintaining a high level of care for COVID-19 patients.”