By TED TAYLOR
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday announced hospitals, surgical centers and dentists can resume non-urgent medical procedures on May 1st, as long as they can demonstrate they’ve met strict safety requirements for COVID-19.
Brown called the move a “signal that Oregon is on the right path in fighting the virus.”
“It’s just a small step, and one that, like all others, we need to take with caution,” she said at a morning news conference with members of her medical advisory panel. “As hospitals, clinics and dental offices begin to bring non-urgent procedures back online, we have to remain vigilant in how we’re doing it.”
On March 19th, Brown ordered all hospitals and outpatient clinics to stop “non-essential” or elective surgeries until June 15th to help the state preserve its depleting supply of PPE for COVID-19 care.
The decision forced many Central Oregonians to put off cancer surgeries and other important procedures.
It also put many health care workers out of work.
New data released Thursday shows, nearly 31,000 Oregonians working in “health care/social assistance” have had to file for unemployment benefits over the last five weeks.
Some hospitals have seen revenue decline as much as 60% in a month, said Becky Hultberg, CEO of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems.
“We supported the decision to pause elective procedures to preserve PPE for the COVID-19 fight, but we also understand that it’s not safe to delay some of these procedures indefinitely,” she said in a statement applauding Thursday’s decision. “Our patients need care and we are prepared to safely resume health care services.”
St. Charles earlier this month said it had seen a 45% decline in daily revenue since the order was announced. Health centers statewide are also struggling, including in La Pine which has asked the community for help as its revenue has declined due to the order.
“It’s just a small step, and one that, like all others,
we need to take with caution.” – Gov. Kate Brown
“I know that halting these types of procedures has added to the strain on Oregon’s rural hospitals and healthcare providers during this crisis,” she said. “This order allows them to get back to providing much-needed care for Oregonians.”
St. Charles officials said the hospital never really stopped all surgeries because the governor’s initial order allowed them to exercise “clinical judgment in interpreting” which surgeries should proceed.
“We did not ever stop completely, because some of these necessary elective surgeries could not safely be delayed,” Dr. Jeff Absalon, chief executive physician. “However, over the last week we are seeing more requests for surgeries to be considered, and are now performing more, within the Governor’s exceptions.”
Absalon said the hospital was doing as many as 25 surgeries a day over the last month.
“We have put together a panel of local experts to evaluate requests for elective surgeries to define which should be performed,” he said. “This group is keeping the patients best interest in mind while judging which cases we can safely accommodate.”
Brown’s new orders say providers will need to demonstrate they have the ability to:
- Minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission to patients and healthcare workers
- Maintain adequate hospital capacity in the event of a surge in COVID-19 cases
- Support the health care workforce in safely resuming activities
Under the framework, medical providers must also demonstrate that they have an adequate amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) available for health care workers and report PPE supplies to the Oregon Health Authority daily, Brown said.
Hospitals must also demonstrate adequate COVID-19 testing capacity when needed, including the ability to screen patients before non-urgent procedures, and follow strict infection control protocols.
Facilities that are ready to begin resuming non-urgent procedures will be required to do so gradually, in order to preserve the capacity to treat COVID-19 patients, Brown said. Criteria will be reassessed biweekly.
Bend Rep. Cheri Helt, who last week sent a letter to Brown urging her to lift the ban in Central Oregon, was pleased with the decision.
“We can beat COVID-19 while safely allowing Oregonians access to critical medical and health care procedures” Helt said in a statement Thursday. “I’m pleased by the decision of Governor Brown for lifting restrictions on elective and non-urgent surgeries and medical procedures. As we move forward, it is important that (we) responsibly manage our PPE supplies and have timely and robust testing for COVID-19. We must trust and rely on the expertise of our doctors, nurses, scientists, and other frontline workers, and return the autonomy of practicing medicine and providing health care to those in the medical field.”
Several dentists we spoke with on Thursday said they weren’t comfortable reopening yet because they were asked to donate their PPE during the mask shortage and haven’t been able to order more.
The state has reported 2,127 positive cases of COVID-19; 83 Oregonians have died.