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Hospitals to resume nonemergency surgeries

Rogue Valley hospitals say they’re ready to start performing nonemergency surgeries and other procedures in May after Gov. Kate Brown announced this week she plans to lift restrictions on care.

She issued a ban on nonessential surgeries and procedures March 18 to preserve hospital supplies such as face masks and ensure they had enough open beds to deal with a possible COVID-19 surge.

Oregon’s “Stay Home, Save Lives” order has helped prevent as many as 70,000 infections and 1,500 hospitalizations, according to a state modeling report released Friday.

But the ban on nonemergency surgeries and procedures has put everyone from patients scheduled for colonoscopies to many women battling breast cancer in limbo.

The order also damaged hospitals financially as they saw revenue from surgeries and procedures nosedive.

Hospitals need to get official approval from the governor before they resume non-urgent surgeries and procedures, but Providence and Asante officials said they meet criteria for adequate personal protective equipment and bed capacity to cope with a possible COVID-19 surge.

“We’re really pleased that Gov. Brown has opened up the opportunity for us to look at elective procedures for our patients. There’s significant pent-up demand and concern, as you can well imagine, from those patients whose procedures have been delayed,” said Lisa Vance, chief executive for Providence of Oregon, which runs a multi-state chain of hospitals that include Providence Medford Medical Center.

The Providence system has been using only about 25% of its surgical capacity while it focused on emergency cases. It plans to gradually ramp up to 50% capacity — all while keeping close tabs on stockpiles of masks, gloves, face masks and other supplies that reduce the risk of infection, Vance said.

Brown has compared the loosening of restrictions on hospitals to venturing out onto a frozen lake. As long as the ice holds and there’s no surge of COVID-19 infections, the state can keep taking steps forward.

“We’re going to take this step-by-step,” Vance agreed. “What’s most important to us is your safety, and we’ll be taking a watchful eye as we move this forward, but we’re excited that we can start to address the needs of our community.”

The Asante system, which includes hospitals in Medford, Ashland and Grants Pass, has been preparing for the lifting of the ban on non-urgent surgeries and procedures, said Dr. Jamie Grebosky, senior vice president and chief medical and quality officer for Asante.

Asante has allocated

$2.5 million above its previously budgeted amount to buy personal protective equipment to help keep health care workers and patients safe, he said.

Competition is fierce worldwide for protective gear, and prices are six times higher than they were several months ago, but Asante has been creative in acquiring needed equipment, Grebosky said.

When Brown announced the ban on non-urgent procedures, Asante had to start deciding which patients got help immediately and who had to wait.

“Our approach was to pull together a panel of physician leaders and staff from our administrative team to help us prioritize hundreds of cases that have been on hold during the past month,” Grebosky said.

Patients with coronary artery disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer and other health problems have sometimes had certain types of care postponed, he said.

“There are many things we consider quite serious that haven’t been moving forward,” Grebosky said.

Asante continued to carry out surgeries and procedures if death or permanent and serious harm would result without immediate intervention, he said.

On the financial side, Grebosky said Asante is financially a very strong health care system that consistently ranks highly for its quality of care.

But Asante has lost $25 million to $30 million in revenue due to the COVID-19 crisis so far, he said.

Providence didn’t have a specific figure for its Southern Oregon facilities, but said gross revenue is down 40% across its seven-state system of 51 hospitals and 1,085 clinics.

Grebosky said the financial strain on hospitals will continue until the community reaches a sufficient level of immunity from the new virus through infections or vaccinations, which are still in development. Widespread immunity that would help protect the public could take two years to achieve, he estimated.

“The virus makes the timeline. We don’t make the timeline,” Grebosky said.

Scientists still aren’t sure how prevalent the virus is in the population, how lethal the virus is compared to other illnesses such as the flu, how many people already had COVID-19 but were never tested because their symptoms were relatively mild, and if previously infected people now have immunity, and if so, for how long.

But in the meantime, Grebosky said, the entire health care system and the public can take precautions to help prevent infection and death.

Among other steps, Asante created a drive-up testing site, boosted telehealth visits and set up a COVID-19 hotline at 541-789-2813 to answer people’s questions and connect them with care, he said.

Grebosky encouraged people to keep following health guidelines, including wearing masks in public and maintaining social distancing.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Rogue Valley hospitals say they're ready to resume non-urgent surgeries and procedures that have been on hold across Oregon due to the COVID-19 pandemic.{ }Photo courtesy of Providence