San Diego Hospital Exec. Urges Against Elective Surgery Mandates as COVID Surge Hits East Coast

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Hospital system administrators in San Diego are keeping a close eye on the East Coast where the states of New York and Massachusetts have already ordered hospitals nearing capacity to cancel non-emergency surgeries.

But a Scripps Health chief medical officer says these types of mandates will only make a potential COVID surge in hospitals worse.

“As I was pulling into the hospital, they called me and said don’t come in for your appointment because your surgery has been canceled,” said Lynda Morris, who lives in Rochester, New York.

Morris was looking forward to Friday -- the day she would finally get a knee replacement surgery. She was supposed to have that surgery back in October, but vaccine mandates led to a worker shortage at her hospital in Rochester.

Without the surgery, Morris, who's normally active, can’t move around without a painful limp. That’s especially troublesome given that she lives alone.

Morris joins thousands of East Coast patients in need of so-called "elective" surgeries who must now wait, indefinitely, until the number of COVID cases goes down.

In San Diego, hospitals similarly were mandated to cancel all non-emergency procedures at the onset of COVID in 2020. It led to a major backlog of surgeries, one which wasn’t helped by cyberattacks and staffing shortages.

On Jan. 8, 2021, Scripps Health was treating 500 COVID patients in its hospitals -- 84 of them in the ICU. Things are significantly improved for now. Scripps Health has 84 COVID patients on hospital beds – 21 of them are in the intensive care unit.

But Scripps Health Chief Medical Officer of Acute Care Dr. Ghazala Sharieff says if those numbers go up, as they have across the country, she hopes government officials let hospitals figure out how to handle a patient surge. Sharieff says the mandates are well-meaning but ultimately misguided, as they not only hurt patient care by delaying serious procedures but don’t do much to help hospitals treat COVID patients.

“What we would like is no mandates," Sharieff said. "Let us manage this. We know what staff we have. We know where we need to move that. Just closing down a clinic doesn’t mean that clinic staff can go into the operating room. So we’ve learned how to manage this. Let us adjust our caseload, we’ve learned which cases need to go.”

The governor of New York announced the mandates on elective surgeries right after Thanksgiving and said the state will revisit the mandate on Jan. 15.

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