State lawmakers on Tuesday urged Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to ease temporary restrictions and allow hospitals and other care providers to resume elective or non-essential medical procedures and surgeries.
The resolution passed by the Senate, sponsored by state Sen. Lana Theis, R-Brighton, noted that the governor last week eased restrictions to allow businesses such as garden centers, nurseries, lawn care providers, and pest control services to reopen. The resolution urges the governor to allow elective procedures in hospitals and allow other care providers “the freedom to determine their capacity to handle elective procedures.”
“While postponing some elective procedures, such as joint replacement and bariatric surgery, may not pose an immediate health risk to patients, many procedures are still needed to preserve patients’ quality of life and long-term well-being,” according to the resolution.
The resolution also cites how more than a dozen states have “determined it is safe and appropriate to ease their restrictions on elective medical treatments as the stress on their health care systems from COVID-19 abates.” Additionally, the American Hospital Association has issued standards “to guide the safe resumption of elective surgeries and other procedures,” according to the resolution.
Gov. Whitmer on March 20, early in the COVID-19 pandemic’s spread into Michigan, issued an executive order that placed restrictions on non-essential medical and dental procedures.
The executive order, which expires May 15 unless a state of emergency and Whitmer’s stay-home order is extended again, required care providers to postpone non-essential procedures and surgeries. The order included hospitals and medical centers that perform elective surgery or cosmetic plastic surgery, including “joint replacement, bariatric surgery, and cosmetic surgery, except for emergency or trauma-related surgery where postponement would significantly impact the health, safety, and welfare of the patient.”
Excluded from the order were surgeries and procedures related to cardiovascular disease “that would prolong life,” and emergency or trauma-related procedures where postponement would “significantly impact the health, safety, and welfare of the patient.” Hospitals are also allowed to proceed with surgeries related to advanced cardiovascular disease; oncological testing, treatment and related procedures; visits and procedures related to pregnancy; organ transplants; and kidney dialysis.
The executive order was intended to allow hospitals to redeploy staff to deal with surges in patients with COVID-19 and mitigate the spread of the disease.
The inability to perform non-essential, elective procedures and surgeries has cost hospitals millions in lost revenue. The Michigan Health and Hospital Association estimates that members lost $600 million in revenue the last two weeks of March.
In a statement, CEO Brian Peters said the MHA “appreciates the ongoing support of hospitals and health systems by our state legislative bodies and the Whitmer administration throughout this pandemic.”
“Whenever, and by whatever means (the executive order) does expire, all hospitals have plans in place to resume other services and procedures with processes and equipment in place that protect all patients and all staff,” Peters said.
A spokesperson for the MHA said the state has been leaving it up to physicians and hospitals to decide whether a procedure is essential and “when something is threatening to somebody’s well-being.” That stance was affirmed to hospitals as recently as this week.
In a statement Tuesday to MiBiz, Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids said it is “caring for all patients needing urgent or emergency care and has performed hundreds of such procedures during the past month as needed.”
“For example, we continue to perform cancer surgeries where tumors are removed. Patients needing chemotherapy and radiation therapy continue receiving their scheduled treatments. As always, we are performing life-saving procedures such as heart bypass surgery and are performing interventions on stroke victims where the clot is removed,” Spectrum Health said in a statement. “In addition, our transplant programs remain fully operational. Every day, our physicians assess their patients and evaluate whether necessary surgeries, radiology exams or procedures should be performed at this time to ensure their health and safety.”
Beyond the financial effects of the pandemic, a growing concern among hospitals is the number of people delaying or avoiding care for a medical problem.
In a poll of more than 2,200 adults conducted April 18-20 by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), 29 percent of respondents said they had delayed or avoided medical care because they were worried about contracting COVID-19 at a hospital or care center.
Four out of five respondents said they were very or somewhat concerned about contracting COVID-19 from another hospital patient or a visitor if they had to go to an ER, and nearly six in 10 worried they could not get treated by a doctor, according to the ACEP survey results.
In a Monday webinar hosted by the West Michigan Policy Forum, Spectrum Health President and CEO Tina Freese Decker stressed that the health system was “paying special attention to the potential delay of care.”
“We have stringent cleaning requirements. We understand the PPE that’s required to take care of people,” Freese Decker said. “We want to make sure people understand our organization as well as others are safe places to go.”
Of the 650 people who were inpatients Monday, 50 were confirmed COVID-19 patients, Freese Decker said.
As of Tuesday, Michigan had recorded 39,262 confirmed cases of COVID-19, an increase of 1,052 from Monday, and 3,567 deaths, 160 more than a day earlier.
Kent County has 1,305 confirmed COVID-19 cases, more than double a week earlier, according to data from the state.
During the West Michigan Policy Forum webinar, Metro Health-University of Michigan CEO Peter Hahn said that based on predictive modeling, a peak in West Michigan COVID-19 patients will occur in the coming weeks.
“We’ve yet to see a true surge, or what we call internally a wave, in West Michigan yet,” he said. “The modeling tends to suggest we are going to see an uptick pretty soon here in a few weeks, maybe the end of May. It’s just a matter of how big and how wide that wave is.”