Hospitals, surgeons, balance cancellation of elective surgeries during winter surge

Officials at CRMC in Fresno say they'll stop all non-urgent surgeries and procedures by January 1st.
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Hospitals around the Central Valley are pushing the pause button on elective surgeries to keep space and staff available during the worst COVID-19 surge of the pandemic.

Hospital leaders are being forced to prioritize their limited resources for patients who have already been admitted to the hospital, including those battling COVID-19.

Due to a steep rise in coronavirus admissions and quarantined staff, officials at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno say they'll stop all non-urgent surgeries and procedures by January 1st.

In Visalia, Kaweah Delta Medical Center started limiting non-essential procedures in early December, a temporary move the hospital made once before in the spring.

"So what we do is a very regimented evaluation of the surgical schedules almost on a daily basis and we look at those cases that are a must-do," said Dan Allain, Kaweah Delta Vice President of Cardiac & Surgical Services. "So we define that as emergent and urgent, life, limb threatening."

The doctors at Orthopedic Associates in Visalia have seen their weekly caseloads dive since Kaweah Delta hit the brakes on elective surgeries.

"So it's zero elective (surgeries) over there right now," said Dr. Seth Criner, an orthopedic surgeon with Orthopedic Associates. "Except for my example of the guy who needed his hip replaced and he doesn't qualify for the surgery center but he needs it done and shouldn't wait four weeks to do it."

But Criner, who also performs procedures at the Sequoia Surgery Center, says he has been able to shift some of his previously-scheduled hospital cases to that facility.

The difference is that those patients must be able to go home the same day as their operation.

"That's exactly what all of us at Orthopedic Associates and I'm sure the other orthopedic guys in town have done is: You sit down and you look at your list of patients that need surgery and you start figuring out anyone who was scheduled for the hospital that you can move over to the surgery center," Criner said.

Criner is hopeful that staff vaccinations will help stabilize Kaweah Delta's workforce to a level where they can take on elective surgeries--which he says have always been safe to do during the pandemic.

Hospital officials say patients shouldn't have to wait too much longer.

"So in combination of coming off of the surge and having some immunity starting to develop in the community, I'm hopeful that first part or middle of February, that we're going to be able to start looking at opening up surgeries again," Allain said.
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