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Northam bucks hospitals, extends costly, potentially deadly, ban on elective surgeries

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Gov. Ralph Northam rejected a request from the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association asking him to lift his executive order banning elective surgeries, and instead is extending it a week, to May 1.

“My top priority is protecting public health, and that includes ensuring that our frontline medical staff have the equipment they need to stay safe as they treat Virginians who are sick,” Northam said. “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. We are working with medical facilities on plans to ensure that we can resume elective surgeries safely and responsibly.”

But the VHHA has already put plans to that effect into motion, releasing on Thursday a document, Framework for Reopening Virginia’s Hospitals, that is to serve as a guide the re-opening of non-urgent services consistent with President Trump’s recently announced Open Up America Again Guidance, as well as guidance issued this week by the American College of Surgeons and other national organizations.

“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 Connaughton wrote in a letter to Northam on Thursday, sent ahead of the governor’s announcement.

VHHA estimates that 60,000 Virginians have had their non-urgent inpatient and outpatient medical procedures canceled over the past month, and that 15,000 procedures will be canceled every week going forward.

“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,” Connaughton wrote in the letter, which notes that there are currently 1,301 COVID-19 patients hospitalized across Virginia, with 6,000 open beds at Virginia hospitals, and just 21 percent of the 2,865 ventilators available in use by both COVID-19 and non-COVID19 patients.

“Critically, these numbers have remained consistent since the end of March,” Connaughton noted in his letter to Northam.

Seventeen states have lifted restrictions on non-emergency procedures: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia.

“Treating COVID-19 patients in this response is a top priority for Virginia’s hospitals,” Connaughton wrote. “As this crisis has evolved, we have a gained a better understanding of our capacity to meet the needs of COVID-19 patients. We believe we have the capacity to treat these patients now and as the disease progresses, while at the same time safely providing care for Virginians in need of non-urgent, but medically necessary care unrelated to COVID-19.”

Story by Chris Graham