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Hospitals suspend surgeries ahead of winter COVID surge

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Bayhealth, Sussex Campus in Milford is one of a few hospitals that will again suspend some surgeries at this time. | DBT PHOTO BT KATIE TABELING

As Delaware is once again facing the prospect of a winter surge of COVID cases, three major health care systems in all counties have once again stopped non-urgent surgeries for the time being.

ChristianaCare in Wilmington and Newark, Bayhealth in Dover and Milford, and Beebe Healthcare in Lewes have announced they will postpone surgeries and procedures that are not time-sensitive and that would impact inpatient bed availability.

“New COVID positive cases are rising sharply in the community, especially in the past weeks following the Thanksgiving holiday,” a ChristianaCare spokesman said in a prepared statement “This surge combined with already high demand for hospital services unrelated to COVID-19 is creating an extraordinarily high volume of patients who need hospital and emergency care.”

ChristianaCare will continue to perform surgeries for patients who are already admitted to hospitals, as well as those for patients who can be discharged within six hours after their surgery.

Meanwhile, Beebe will pause some elective surgeries that require overnight stays, but it is working closely with surgeons to best prioritize patient care.

“We will continue to monitor this and will resume elective surgeries requiring a hospital stay as the situation allows,” Beebe spokesman Ryan Marshall said. “We understand that elective doesn’t mean unnecessary, and we’re working to ensure everyone gets the quality care they need in a timely manner.”

Bayhealth has proposed a “small number” of non-urgent procedures to serve most critical patients, but Bayhealth Chief Medical Officer Gary Siegelman points out this may be the case across the country.

“Bayhealth is experiencing a busy health care climate with an increase in Covid-19 cases as well as more patients needing higher levels of care and closer monitoring,” Siegelman said. “As a regional health care leader, we will continue to provide surgeries to patients experiencing an emergent or urgent need.”

Saint Francis Hospital in Wilmington and TidalHealth in Seaford have not paused elective surgeries.

COVID-19 cases have been slowly climbing since Thanksgiving, with 586 cases reported on Dec. 7. The hospitalization rate of COVID-19 has risen by 77% since Nov. 1 and 296 people were hospitalized as of Tuesday, state officials report. 

When doctors and nurses were on the front lines of the pandemic last spring and much about the virus was unknown, hospitals in Delaware suspended visiting hours and elective surgeries, and canceled other non-urgent and non-critical care options, cutting into the systems’ revenue.

As the vaccine became easily accessible this summer and COVID-19 case numbers fell though, health care providers gradually reopened services. But with new variants, such as the highly contagious delta variant and the latest omicron variant, a new wave caused some hospitals to pull back on elective surgeries once more.

At the height of the pandemic in 2020, Delaware hospitals were losing $5.6 million per day, according to a report from the Delaware Healthcare Association. Much of that revenue loss was caused by suspending non-urgent services. Inpatient surgeries were down 18% and emergency rooms were down 21%. Total outpatient visits were down by over 150,000 visits.

ChristianaCare representatives told the Delaware Business Times that while the bed capacity fluctuates continually, it has been high since the fall. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services surveyed hospitals across the country and the data shows that there are 338 reported hospitalized patients in 13 Delaware hospitals on Dec. 9. Thirty-one adults were admitted to hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 the day before. One hospital did not respond to the survey.

In Delaware, 77% of the hospital beds in the state were occupied, according to the survey.

This week, Gov. John Carney held a press conference about the rising COVID-19 cases and warned people to take preventative measures like vaccinating, social distancing and wearing masks to mitigate the forthcoming winter surge.

“A lot of people were vaccinated, but not taking the precautions that they were before, because they are vaccinated and there is a greater comfort level there,” Carney said. “But we need to stamp down this surge that we’re seeing, and keep our families safe.”

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1 Comment

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    Dale Asbury December 13, 2021

    “In Delaware, 77% of the hospital beds in the state were occupied, according to the survey.” Isn’t that perfectly normal for this time of year?


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