Health Officials Warn Against Elective Surgery Delays

Published: Saturday, June 13, 2020 - 12:07pm

As a surge in coronavirus cases fills hospitals across Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive orders could put a halt to elective surgeries to help free up inpatient beds.

Marcy Flanagan, director of the Maricopa County Health Department, said not all elective surgeries should be treated equally.

“It can be a very confusing term,” Flanagan said. “It’s actually defined as a surgery that can be put off for 24 hours.”

That includes surgeries like a mastectomy for breast cancer, or heart bypass surgery.

“Bottom line is, turning off elective surgeries can affect public health in a very profound way,” she said. “We all know somebody who has needed one of these types of surgeries and we wouldn’t want to see our family or loved ones have to wait.”

Flanagan's remarks came as hospitals statewide reported exceeding 80% of their total bed capacity.

If an individual hospital has fewer than 20% of their inpatient beds available, that should trigger a halt in elective surgeries, according to the governor’s previous executive orders.

Dr. Cara Christ, director of the state Department of Health Services, said halting those surgeries is just “one of the tools in the toolbox” to ensure hospitals have the capacity to treat coronavirus patients.

Ducey’s order also leave hospitals the flexibility they need to treat non-coronavirus patients, she said.

“There’s a lot of discretion given to the physicians to determine what an elective surgery is,” Christ said. “Things that would not be considered an elective surgery would be things that could result in further metastasis or staging of cancer, or things that might require… a hospitalization if it would result in a bad outcome or loss of a limb, those types of things.”

Flanagan urged Arizonans to follow guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help reverse the growth in coronavirus cases in Arizona. 

“It's not just stopping the spread, but it's actually making sure that our healthcare system is intact, and can take care of us if we get COVID-19 or some other illness,” Flanagan said. “So each of us who lives and works in this community has a role in slowing the spread, and preserving our health care system.”

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