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Weighing Risks, UCHealth Resumes Elective Surgeries

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ImadCode / CC BY-SA 2.0

Under the state’s new safer-at-home order, hospitals are allowed to start elective surgeries again, which were not allowed under the stay-at-home order. It’s up to individual hospital systems to decide if they want to do so.

UCHealth’s Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland, Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins and Greeley Hospital in Greeley have opted to begin elective surgeries again. Dr. Thomas Downes, the chief medical officer at that hospital joined Colorado Edition to discuss that decision.

Interview Highlights:

These interview highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Erin O’Toole: First, what surgeries are considered 'elective?'

Dr. Thomas Downes: I would like to clarify - what we are beginning to do are not necessarily elective surgeries, but essential surgeries. When the pandemic began, we had to look at procedures that we could put on hold versus procedures that were urgent and had an immediate or possibly life-threatening effect on patients. We have continued to do those urgent procedures throughout.

At that time, we put some procedures on hold that, while not totally elective, are essential for a patient’s health in the long term. Those are the procedures we’re beginning to do some of now.

For some patients — even for say, patients who need by-pass surgery — not all of those patients are emergency. Not all of them require an urgent surgical situation. A lot of them can be stabilized with medications for a period of time. We’re starting to call in some patients who have been stabilized with medications. We’d like to get them done before some adverse events.

Purely elective procedures — such as cosmetics — we still are not doing.

What safety measures are in place for patients, and staff members performing these surgeries, so they’re not at risk of getting COVID-19?

We’ve isolated all our COVID patients into individual areas within each hospital to protect non-COVID infected patients. All of these “COVID units” are closed off. People who work on those units have maximum personal protective gear. They are monitored closely for symptoms of infection as well as their daily temperature. So they seem to be well protected.

For the rest of the hospital, we have gone to everyone wearing masks and protective gear, because we are aware that some patients might have COVID without dramatic symptoms.

In the operating rooms, we are treating almost every patient as if they are COVID-positive. Everyone in the operating rooms is wearing maximum protective gear. All patients who come in for procedures are tested for COVID before their procedure is done.

Some hospitals have been struggling financially during this time, in part because some of these elective procedures haven’t been going on. Was this part of the decision to restart elective surgeries?

It has obviously weighed on everyone’s mind. All hospitals have been losing tremendous amounts of revenue during this. But as a system we’re more concerned with the health of the population as a whole. We want to make sure that, by dipping our toe in the water and doing more procedures, we do not incite a surge of new cases. So I wouldn’t say that we’re doing it just to try to restore income. We’re doing it because we’ve put off a lot of patients with procedures that need to be done for several weeks now. We’re trying to accommodate them.

Our biggest concern is not revenue, but will we be able to continue taking care of the COVID patients we have and accommodate all these others.

What will the next few weeks look like for UCHealth?

We anticipate that we will have COVID patients and COVID units in our hospitals for several months. Until we have a vaccine developed, and until we get most of the population in the country past this, we are more or less at our new normal.

Can we protect our staff? Will we have enough ICU beds and medical floor beds? It’s a daily evaluation of all that. Taking each day one at a time. I do not think that will change for several months.

This conversation is part of KUNC’s Colorado Edition for April 29th. You can find the full episode here .

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