Gov. Abbott halts elective surgeries in large cities as COVID-19 fills up hospitals

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Elective surgeries suspended in Travis, Bexar, Dallas and Harris counties

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order Thursday, immediately suspending hospital elective surgeries in four of the largest counties in the state, including Travis County. It’s a precautionary move, he said, that should help preserve hospital capacity.

Under the new executive order, hospitals in Bexar, Dallas, Harris and Travis counties will not be able to perform surgery unless it is “medically necessary to correct a serious medical condition or to preserve the life of a patient” or it doesn’t interfere with hospital capacity.

“So translation being if an elective surgery does not have to be admitted to the hospital afterwards, they can still be performed,” explained Dr. Austin Hill, Orthopedic Trauma Surgeon at Texas Orthopedics.

Gov. Abbott first halted elective surgeries for all licensed medical providers on March 13, but then loosened those restrictions on April 22.

Hill said the March order “was devastating for most medical practices and hospitals.”

“One of the largest revenue drivers hospitals is surgery,” he told KXAN. “So the last executive order stopped virtually all surgeries. You may still have patients in the hospital, but the census was much lower. And the hospitals have fixed costs that aren’t going away.”

The American Hospital Association released a report recently after looking at how much hospitals were spending to treat COVID-19 patients, how much they were losing through cancelled surgeries and how much they were spending to buy personal protective equipment.”

The report found hospitals across the country were losing $50 billion per month between March and June.

Hill said after the surgery limitations lifted in April in Texas, his practice was able to rehire people. This new order, he said, will not be as detrimental, impacting less than 10 percent of orthopedic surgeries “because the majority of the procedures we do are either trauma injuries, patients that have come into the hospital and need to be taken care of right now, or outpatient surgeries that can be done in a surgery center.”

According to Hill, the scarce resource during this pandemic is a hospital bed, not the operating room.

“Most COVID patients don’t need surgery. They just need medical care,” Hill explained. “So we can still operate and do procedures as long as we’re not filling up beds for those patients. So that’s the limited resource. If we can preserve that capacity, then we can take care of anyone that comes with COVID.”

As of Wednesday, about 70 percent of staffed beds and ICU beds at Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White and St. David’s were full.

In Houston, the Intensive Care Unit at the Texas Medical Center is 97 percent full and could be completely full by the end of Thursday. That would put the hospital into what it calls a “sustainable surge,” using others beds for ICU patients. That sustainable surge would run out within two weeks, and then the hospital would have no more room for patients.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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