Tampa Bay hospitals weigh elective surgeries as coronavirus closes in

Tampa General and Johns Hopkins All Childrens hospitals are postponing many non-critical operations. Others have yet to go that far.
Tampa General Hospital, where this surgery took place, and Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital are postponing many non-critical surgeries to make sure they have the capacity to handle coronavirus patients.
Tampa General Hospital, where this surgery took place, and Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital are postponing many non-critical surgeries to make sure they have the capacity to handle coronavirus patients. [ Times (2010) ]
Published March 18, 2020|Updated March 19, 2020

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As hospitals across Tampa Bay brace for more cases of coronavirus, some are scaling back the number of elective surgeries taking place inside their operating rooms.

At Tampa General Hospital, all scheduled elective procedures for international and out-of-state patients have been canceled, said CEO John Couris.

“We postponed international patients coming in for surgery two weeks ago, and last week we postponed patients coming in from out of state,” Couris said in an interview.

He added: “We’re not going to stop all surgeries. If someone has a mass, or a tumor, or a trauma or a transplant, that will continue. We still have a health care system to run. But if a physician has a patient who has a knee replacement or a hip replacement or a hernia operation that could wait a couple of weeks or months, then we’re going to reschedule.”

Non-critical surgeries at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg are canceled for two weeks beginning Wednesday, said Kim Hoppe with Johns Hopkins Medicine. The hospital is working under the guidance of Johns Hopkins Health System in coordination with University of Maryland Medical System.

“Given the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must consider even more carefully how we direct our resources to ensure that we are able to meet the needs of our patients, their families and our staff,” Hoppe said in a statement, referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus. The hospital will continue to reassess the policy, the statement said.

All hospital operators in the region have begun to shift resources to testing and caring for positive COVID-19 patients, which is putting a strain on normal operations. Gov. Ron DeSantis said in his daily briefing Wednesday that he hoped to see more hospitals cancel elective surgeries to get ready. Earlier this week, the U.S. Surgeon General encouraged hospitals to consider ending elective surgical procedures to conserve personal protection equipment and free up resources.

The shift creates a financial predicament for medical facilities, said Jay Wolfson, a professor at the University of South Florida’s College of Public Health and an expert on health care policy.

“Rescheduling elective and and non-emergent procedures and services is going to be the order of the day for everything. There will most certainly be a financial hit,” Wolfson said. “The realities of the financial impact will be similar, I suspect, to those of the emerging incidents of the disease itself — (especially) for those most financially vulnerable.”

BayCare Health System will postpone elective procedures at hospital and ambulatory surgical centers beginning Friday through April 30, according to a news release. BayCare will “determine at a later date” when to reschedule these appointments, the release said.

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“With the virus still spreading, this is the prudent and responsible thing to do for our community,” said Dr. Nishant Anand, chief medical officer for BayCare, in a statement. “We do not want to put patients, team members or physicians unnecessarily in harm’s way."

AdventHealth hospitals are deferring elective procedures when it makes sense to postpone, said spokeswoman Richelle Hoenes.

“We will continue to perform all emergency and urgent procedures,” she said.

Bayfront Health in St. Petersburg is continuing with scheduled surgeries for now, said David Larrick, the hospital’s marketing director.

“The decision about whether to have surgery is one to be made between the physician and the patient,” he said. “At this time, we will continue to provide elective procedural services, but we also acknowledge this is a fluid, day-by-day situation and we will continue to evaluate any need for changes to our surgical schedules and services in the coming days.”

At this time, hospital staffing levels remain stable. Most hospitals are maintaining their current patient loads with the normal staff shifts that they have. But burnout continues to be top of mind for many health care workers as the virus spreads, Wolfson said.

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