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Michigan hospitals don’t plan to shut down elective surgeries again, but it’s a possible last resort

State hospital system leaders don’t anticipate shutting down elective surgeries despite COVID-19 surge

A patient holding a pillow in a hospital bed.
A patient holding a pillow in a hospital bed. (Sharon McCutcheon from Pixabay)

As the number of Michiganders hospitalized with COVID-19 rises again, hospitals aren’t planning to shut down elective surgeries. But if the health care system gets overwhelmed, that might be a measure of last resort.

The presidents and CEOS of Henry Ford Health System, Beaumont Health, Spectrum Health and Munson Healthcare spoke about the issue Thursday during a virtual panel discussion. They all agreed that shutting down elective surgeries is not part of their plan.

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“We do not want to be in a position where we have to shut down elective procedures or non-urgent activities in our hospitals,” said Wright Lassiter, president and CEO of Henry Ford Health System.

Lassiter cited two main reasons for wanting to continue those procedures. Most importantly, health care workers don’t want Michiganders to have to delay necessary care. Secondly, elective surgeries have a significant financial impact on hospitals.

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“I will say that at Henry Ford, we have not stopped any elective or non-urgent procedures,” Lassiter said. “We are having a small percentage of patients who are opting to delay care because they’re concerned about the level of COVID-19 in hospitals.”

He said hospitals are safe places, even during the COVID-19 spike, because staff members know how to keep patients safe.

“Our infection rate within the hospitals, and of our own personnel, is less than the community rate, which says this PPE (personal protective equipment) does work,” said John Fox, president and CEO of Beaumont Health. “It does create a safe environment.”

Beaumont Health is also continuing to offer all of its non-COVID-19 services because delaying those procedures puts people’s health at risk even further, Fox said.

“We do not want to shut that down,” Fox said. “Those patients need care.”

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In the Upper Peninsula, hospitals have had to move off some cases because of ICU capacity over the last week to 10 days, according to Gar Atchison , the CEO of UP Health System-Marquette and market CEO of UP Health System.

Atchison said one of the issues with the first state shutdown was patients who had to put off their procedures came to the hospital in worse shape than they would have because they were forced to wait.

“Shutting down does have consequences to public health, and I think we all agree we’d like to avoid it,” Atchison said.

While all the hospital leaders agreed they don’t want to shut down elective procedures, it’s possible the spread of COVID-19 could reach a point where that’s the only option.

COVID-19 cases are more widespread throughout the state now than they were in the spring, and most states in the Midwest and across the country are seeing the same trend. That means Michigan hospitals won’t easily be able to transfer patients elsewhere if they reach capacity in terms of space or workers.

As a result, shutting down other types of care to focus on COVID-19 is a possible last resort, if the situation in Michigan doesn’t improve.

“We have contingency plans for all of our hospitals,” said John Fox, president and CEO of Beaumont Health. “We will have to pull back on non-COVID-19 services at some point. Do not want to do that. Do not think that’s in the patients' best interests, but that is definitely where we will have to go.”


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