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Hospitals delay thousands of surgeries as they face COVID surge

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Starting Monday, Massachusetts’ largest health care system reduced the number of surgeries it will perform each week as the hospitals work to adjust to the strain caused by the latest pandemic surge. Up to 2,000 scheduled surgeries per week, or 40% of the hospital system’s usual total, could be affected by Mass. General Brigham’s new policy.Many elective surgeries were already being postponed. The new policy now includes some that are not considered elective. Both inpatient and outpatient procedures may be included. “We are deferring surgeries for what we consider to be benign tumors or masses. But some of those of course turn out to be cancer,” Dr. Ron Walls, COO of Mass. General Brigham, said in an interview with ABC News. “We’ve already begun the contingency planning to staff up and step up to be able to handle the patient demand that this is creating.”Walls said the decision to postpone the procedures is “agonizing” for the staff. Mass. General Brigham hopes the postponements will not last beyond early February. “We are really focused on not differing surgery where delay would engender harm to the patient,” he said. “We do everything we can to reassure patients that they delay will hopefully be relatively brief.”Last week, UMass Memorial Medical Center made a similar move, suspending procedures for non-life-threatening conditions. Officials there said about 50 procedures per week will be postponed. These decisions are in addition to the policies enacted by the state late in 2021, which instructed hospitals with limited capacity to reduce the number of non-essential surgeries performed. “These hospitals are crushing under the weight of demand and really can’t serve all patients that are in need,” said Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and ABC News Medical Contributor. “Over about the past six weeks, we’ve seen a really big upsurge in the number of COVID patients who are presenting for care — both patients who have COVID and patients who are coming for other care but happen to have COVID,” said Walls. Walls said the unvaccinated have a significant measure of blame for putting hospitals in this position. “It’s really difficult because the decision to vaccinate is not a personal decision because it is the unvaccinated who are filling our hospitals and that’s what’s causing these deferrals,” he said.

Starting Monday, Massachusetts’ largest health care system reduced the number of surgeries it will perform each week as the hospitals work to adjust to the strain caused by the latest pandemic surge.

Up to 2,000 scheduled surgeries per week, or 40% of the hospital system’s usual total, could be affected by Mass. General Brigham’s new policy.

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Many elective surgeries were already being postponed. The new policy now includes some that are not considered elective.

Both inpatient and outpatient procedures may be included.

“We are deferring surgeries for what we consider to be benign tumors or masses. But some of those of course turn out to be cancer,” Dr. Ron Walls, COO of Mass. General Brigham, said in an interview with ABC News. “We’ve already begun the contingency planning to staff up and step up to be able to handle the patient demand that this is creating.”

Walls said the decision to postpone the procedures is “agonizing” for the staff. Mass. General Brigham hopes the postponements will not last beyond early February.

“We are really focused on not differing surgery where delay would engender harm to the patient,” he said. “We do everything we can to reassure patients that they delay will hopefully be relatively brief.”

Last week, UMass Memorial Medical Center made a similar move, suspending procedures for non-life-threatening conditions. Officials there said about 50 procedures per week will be postponed.

These decisions are in addition to the policies enacted by the state late in 2021, which instructed hospitals with limited capacity to reduce the number of non-essential surgeries performed.

“These hospitals are crushing under the weight of demand and really can’t serve all patients that are in need,” said Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and ABC News Medical Contributor.

“Over about the past six weeks, we’ve seen a really big upsurge in the number of COVID patients who are presenting for care — both patients who have COVID and patients who are coming for other care but happen to have COVID,” said Walls.

Walls said the unvaccinated have a significant measure of blame for putting hospitals in this position.

“It’s really difficult because the decision to vaccinate is not a personal decision because it is the unvaccinated who are filling our hospitals and that’s what’s causing these deferrals,” he said.

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