(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania officials said hospitals can resume elective surgeries so long as facilities follow federal safety guidelines and can still respond to a surge in coronavirus patients should a localized outbreak occur.
“We know that many have had to delay important elective procedures and operations, but it was necessary to ensure that our hospital system had enough capacity in case it became overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said.
The news comes after both hospitals and lawmakers said restrictions on nonemergency procedures would stretch facilities that already face mounting financial obligations too thin.
Andy Carter, CEO of the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP) applauded the decision in a statement Monday, two weeks after he said facilities would need more aid to cover a 40 percent revenue shortfall in the first quarter alone.
“HAP and its members look forward to continuing to work together with the Wolf Administration to ensure we are achieving the right balance between reducing COVID-19’s incidence and expanding access for Pennsylvania patients to essential health care services, including nonemergency surgeries and procedures,” he said.
More than 42,000 residents have tested positive for the virus as of Monday and nearly 1,600 have died, according to the Department of Health. Despite a growing caseload, Levine said nearly 40 percent of the state’s intensive care unit beds and 70 percent of its ventilators remain available for use.
Facilities cannot proceed with elective surgeries unless staff has access to personal protective equipment and can still respond to a surge of COVID-19 patients without “resorting to crisis standards of care.”
“Using this guidance, these procedures and admissions can move forward as long as doing so won’t jeopardize the safety of patients or staff or hamper a hospital or surgical center’s ability to respond to a COVID-19 emergency in that area,” Levine said.
House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, also welcomed the decision after sending a letter to Levine last week that asked the department to reconsider the restrictions on health care facilities. It was signed by six other GOP state representatives in districts across Allegheny County.
“Hospital, and health care practitioners, are perfectly situated to provide these services in a safe and effective manner,” he said. “Opening the ambulatory surgical facilities or select hospitals would not stress the system and would provide needed relief to the health care providers who are facing furlough due to a reduction in their work.”
Levine’s announcement follows a series of loosened restrictions on Gov. Tom Wolf’s sweeping businesses closures and pandemic mitigation efforts that legislative Republicans have criticized as the most onerous in the region – if not the entire country.
After lobbying from Republicans and Turzai, himself, the administration said construction sites could resume work May 1. Wolf also said golf courses, private campgrounds, marinas and guided fishing tours could reopen so long as social distancing guidelines remain in place.
He’s resisted broader calls, however, to reopen businesses based on less stringent federal guidelines and has vetoed several GOP-backed plans to do just that.