With the decision of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to lift the elective surgeries ban in Suffolk on May 16, area hospitals will be able to resume an important aspect of their day-to-day operations.
Hospital officials have praised the news because elective and emergency procedures are seen as a vital source of revenue for these facilities.
James O’Connor, president of St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson and chief administrative officer of St. Catherine of Siena Hospital in Smithtown, said it’s good news that both facilities can resume these important procedures.
“It’s a public health issue, you have these patients that were holding off on these urgent and vital surgeries,” he said. “Those needs didn’t go away because of COVID-19.”
O’Connor said between them the two hospitals perform around 750-800 surgeries a month. Orthopedic, bariatric, spine and general surgeries are the most common. The hospitals have already started to bring back staff and furloughed workers have been contacted and will report back to work.
Elective/urgent surgeries have been put on hold for nearly two months, in an effort to ensure there were sufficient hospital beds and medical staff available to handle the surge in COVID-19 cases.
The St. Charles president said that he expects the hospitals to be back “at full volume” in performing surgeries by sometime next month.
“After week one, we will be ramping up the percentage of surgeries that will be done,” he said. “The first week will be at 25 percent and then we’ll keep going forward.”
Stony Brook University Hospital has begun bringing back personnel to the Ambulatory Surgery Center, main operating room and other areas.
“The hospital is looking forward to rescheduling cases to provide the care necessary for its patients and addressing their surgical needs as soon as possible,” said Carol Gomes, chief executive officer at Stony Brook University Hospital.
On average, approximately 100-120 cases daily are performed at the hospital. Those include general surgery, orthopedics, neurosurgery, surgical oncology, cardiac surgery, trauma, kidney transplants, urologic procedures and gynecologic surgery.
The return of these services will help hospitals who are in the midst of financial hardship from the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
According to a report from the American Hospital Association, U.S. hospitals and health systems have lost around $50 billion per month on average during the COVID-19 crisis. From March 1 to June 30, the association estimates a total of $202.6 billion in losses.
“Hospitals and health systems face catastrophic financial challenges in light of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the AHA said in the report.
The association also predicted more financial hardship as millions of people could be left unemployed and lose health insurance. It could lead to increased uncompensated care at hospitals.
O’Connor said without those services health care systems would cease to function.
At Huntington Hospital, a member of Northwell Health, officials have started to implement a daily symptom screening policy for all staff and developed a non-COVID care pathway for all elective/urgent procedures — from parking and presurgical testing to discharge. For the last eight weeks the hospital has been performing surgery on emergency cases.
“I am confident we are prepared to safely take the next step with elective surgeries,” said Dr. David Buchin, director of Bariatric Surgery at Huntington Hospital.
Stony Brook University Hospital will also implement a number of safeguards in preparation for elective surgery patients. In addition to expanding on the use of telehealth, it will test all patients prior to surgery and have them self-isolate prior to operations.
For St. Charles and St. Catherine hospitals, O’Connor said all patients will be required to undergo a COVID-19 test 72 hours before a planned procedure.