Novant Health Inc. said Tuesday that it is limiting non-essential adult elective surgeries, becoming the second hospital in the region to do so.
Dr. David Priest, an infectious disease expert with Novant, said the combination of COVID-19 cases and typical seasonal healthcare needs "has put quite a strain on our local hospitals and other facilities."
The temporary suspension affects Clemmons, Forsyth and Kernersville medical centers, and is effective immediately, Priest said.
Procedures will continue to be done at Medical Park Hospital and Novant ambulatory surgery centers.
The change does not affect Novant hospitals in the Charlotte and Wilmington areas.
"It's a day-to-day, hour-to-hour assessment of our (surgical) capacity, and this decision will give us the extra space we need to care for the COVID volume we have," Priest said.
Wake Forest Baptist said Dec. 10 that the surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations has led it to limit some adult elective surgeries.
The steps by Novant and Wake Forest Baptist are similar to how hospitals in the Triad and statewide responded to state public health officials’ request to halt elective surgeries during the first six weeks of the pandemic.
The goal is preserving beds, intensive-care units and surgical rooms for a surge in COVID-19 patients.
“Wake Forest Baptist Health is asking our surgical staff to begin postponing all adult surgeries and procedures that are not time-sensitive and that require more than one overnight stay in the hospital,” the system said in its statement last week. “At this time, pediatric cases do not need to be rescheduled."
Cone Health said that “we have moved some surgeries to our outpatient surgery centers to free up beds for COVID-19 in our community.”
Priest said that besides curtailing non-essential elective surgeries, Novant is prepared to "activate an array of surge planning from staffing contingencies, utilization of space on our campuses should we need to."
The halt of non-essential elective surgeries from mid-March to early May was a large revenue blow for Cone, Novant and Wake Forest Baptist for two financial reporting quarters this year.
Novant vaccine supply
Novant expects to receive about 6,800 Pfizer vaccines by Thursday.
The system has purchased several ultra-cold freezers to store the Pfizer vaccine at minus-80 degrees.
Those initial doses will be given to health care providers and emergency responders who are at high risk for exposure, those who are vital to the initial COVID vaccine administration efforts, and staff and residents in long-term care facilities.
DHHS estimated that up to 951,000 North Carolinians could receive vaccine doses in the first phase.
Altogether, Novant has storage capacity for 500,000 doses at the ultra-cold level and more than 1 million doses as the normal freezing level, Priest said.
Novant projects getting the Moderna vaccine as early as next week, which does not require as ultra-cold storage as the Pfizer vaccine.
The Pfizer vaccine will be distributed from Forsyth Medical Center to community hospitals in the Triad.
It is possible that community hospitals initially may get more of the Moderna vaccine.
"We'll see in the next few days how many (doses) we can do per day, but we want to do it as quick as we can," Priest said.
Priest cautioned that the holidays "are not a time to let your guard down."
"It will be a holiday season like no other, but we've got to maintain our social distancing and masking.
"It would be a really big tragedy to have people get COVID, be hospitalized from COVID and, heaven forbid, die from it a few weeks before they are able to get a vaccine," Priest said.