COVID forcing Triangle hospitals to cancel previously-scheduled surgeries

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Hospitals across the Triangle are delaying some previously-scheduled surgeries due to record numbers of COVID patients and hundreds of health care workers sick with the virus.

As more and more COVID patients need hospital care, hundreds of health care workers across the Triangle are home with COVID.

UNC Rex Chief Medical Officer Dr. Linda Butler calls the situation, “a staffing crisis.”

“We’ve had to close some beds because we don’t have the staff to manage patients there,” she explained.

UNC, WakeMed, and Duke are all postponing some surgeries.

“We continue to look at our operating room schedule, and cases that could be safely delayed or deferred are being delayed, to be sure that we have the capacity to meet the needs of those who urgently need care,” said Dr. Lisa Pickett, with Duke Health. “Cases that are safe to delay are being rescheduled for March.”

WakeMed Chief Medical Officer Dr. Charles Harr said procedures that are not time-sensitive are being delayed until after Feb. 1.

“With the projections we are seeing, we think we will be, if not through the omicron wave at this time, at least on the downward curve,” he explained.

WakeMed has a system to determine which procedures are most urgently needed.

“We are Level I Trauma Center,” noted Harr. “Heart attacks, strokes, all that those things go without us even considering the bed situation; we do those regardless. Our cancer cases are the next in line because we know a delay can result in a worse effect.”

He added, “The things that become less time-sensitive are things like knee replacement, hip replacement,” but he said delaying any procedure is a tough call. “People have such a debilitating pain that it makes it hard to decide what is time-sensitive and what’s not time-sensitive.”

“It’s heartbreaking for the patient because many of them have waited quite some time to have the surgery, and we don’t do it lightly,” added Butler.

She explained that UNCRex closed three operating rooms and is decreasing next week’s surgery schedule by 30 percent.

“We may deploy those staff elsewhere or may not have the staff to run all those cases,” she said.

She said some patients may have to wait a month or more to reschedule, but most understand there is a staffing crisis. “You do need to have a nurse taking care of you after your surgery and you need a physician to be able to manage your care as well,” she said. “So, we are balancing everybody’s needs.”

Staffing and space aren’t the only reasons procedures are getting postponed.

Butler said she sees about 10 patients a day who have to reschedule their surgeries because they test positive for COVID.

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