Two Triad healthcare systems said Tuesday that they are preparing to start doing some elective surgeries by the end of October.
Cone Health and Novant Health Inc. said in August they would limit or delay non-emergency elective surgeries in response to the delta variant surge in local COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
Delaying and postponing elective surgeries not only affects patients in terms of treatment and recovery, but also the financial bottom lines of the systems.
Cone said in a statement it “plans to return to a normal surgical schedule” by Oct. 31.
Dr. David Priest, an infectious diseases expert with Novant, said it would begin rescheduling non-urgent elective surgeries requiring an overnight stay at Forsyth and Kernersville medical centers.
Clemmons Medical Center continues to perform a significant number of elective surgeries during the overall pause.
“We’re actively catching up on those surgeries now” at Forsyth and Kernersville medical centers, Priest said.
“We’ve had to move things around a little bit, but it’s not a big issue for us now.”
For both systems, those non-urgent elective surgeries were paused to save room for emergency patients.
Cone said the number and types of surgeries being resumed will depend on how many COVID-19 patients are in its hospitals, emergency department capacities and other factors.
Cone said that as of Monday, there were 112 COVID-19 patients in its hospitals — the lowest number of hospitalizations since Aug. 20.
Kenneth Rempher, chief nurse executive with Cone, said the system was thankful that “people who decided they could wait for that knee surgery or hernia repair.”
“Just because a surgery may not be lifesaving, doesn’t mean it’s not life changing. Many surgeries alleviate pain or improve the quality of life our patients lead. Our staff is ready, and we are comfortable with our ability to resume those.
Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist said Tuesday that every Triad facility “is closely monitoring their patient census carefully and making decisions to ensure safety and appropriate capacity.”
In August, the system said “there may be instances, as a result, where a patient is rescheduled for a surgical procedure. This truly underscores the importance of vaccination.”
The three systems have stressed that individuals should not delay emergency care during the COVID-19 surge but asked people not to go to emergency departments for a COVID-19 test.
Fewer ICU beds
The Triad’s three main hospitals have few available beds in intensive care units as the surge of COVID-19 cases, mostly the delta variant, continues.
An interactive map updated Oct. 7 by The New York Times showed Forsyth hospitals with ICU occupancy rates far higher than the national average.
However, the COVID-19 patient levels had declined slightly since the Sept. 30 update.
Forsyth Medical Center had 99 patients with COVID-19 related illnesses, down from 125 in the Sept. 30 update. There were only seven ICU beds available, for a 93% ICU occupancy rate.
Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, identified as N.C. Baptist Hospital in the map, had 63 COVID-19 patients, down from 72 in the Sept. 30 update. There were 11 ICU beds available, for an 89% ICU occupancy rate.
At Cone, there were 107 COVID-19 patients, down from 115 in the Sept. 30 update. There were 17 ICU beds available for an 84% ICU occupancy rate.
Atrium affiliate High Point Regional Medical Center had 35 COVID-19 patients, up from 30 in the Sept. 30 update. There was one ICU bed available for a 96% ICU occupancy rate.
The average North Carolina occupancy rate is 86%, while the national average ICU occupancy rate is 68%, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data.
Those ICU beds are filled with patients with and without COVID-19 related illnesses.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported Monday that 1,843 ICU beds were in use statewide, down from 2,066 on Oct. 4. There were 361 beds listed as empty with staffing available and another 1,283 listed as unreported or unstaffed.
Another factor cited by the Times: The number of usable ICU beds can be limited by the number of nursing staff members available to tend to intensive care patients.
About 20% of the nation’s hospitals with ICU units are at 95% or higher ICU occupancy rates.