Gov. Kate Brown Relaxes Ban On Elective Surgeries

Gov. Kate Brown plans to allow health care providers to resume non-urgent surgeries and procedures on May 1 provided they meet certain requirements.  

The move lifts a March 19 order that halted surgeries that were not immediately necessary to preserve personal protective equipment during the coronavirus pandemic. Medical clinics and hospitals have experienced deep financial losses because of the order and furloughed and laid off staff. Hospitals lost $200 million in March alone. 

The move comes amid pressure from the medical industry, especially hospitals in rural areas which have fewer COVID-19 cases, on Brown to lift the restrictions on these profitable procedures.

“As anyone waiting for an elective surgery knows, ‘non-urgent’ does not mean ‘minor,'” Brown said in a statement. “This is incredibly important medical care that we would not have told providers to delay if the threat of COVID-19 had not made it necessary."

The plan, shared with The Lund Report before an official announcement, shows Brown is taking a cautious approach to try to keep hospitals on steady footing in the event that they face a surge in COVID-19 patients. 

To resume non-urgent procedures, a hospital or surgical center will need to have at least 20% of its beds open. Hospitals also will need a 30-day supply of personal protective equipment, though smaller facilities could qualify with two weeks of supplies on hand and open supply chains.

Hospitals also will need access to COVID-19 testing that provides results within two days.

Under the plan, hospitals will slowly resume elective treatments. At first, hospitals will only be able to perform up to half the volume they did before the pandemic. Providers also will need to constantly evaluate the volume and have a plan for how to reduce or stop elective procedures if COVID-19 cases increase.

Charles Tveit, chief executive officer of Lake District Hospital in Lakeview, said Brown’s move will help hospitals. His hospital is in Lake County, a rural southern Oregon area without a single COVID-19 case yet.

“That will allow us to deliver care our community needs and we need to stay in business,” Tveit said.

Tveit said hospitals will need time to restore their finances even after resuming care because of the time needed to bill insurance companies and collect payments. 

“It’s not about today,” Tveit said. “It’s about what’s going to happen in two months.”

He said his hospital will continue to take precautions to fight COVID-19, including screening people entering the hospital. 

Dentists also faced restrictions during the pandemic which only allowed them to  provide emergency care. Patients were forced to delay routine and preventative care, like teeth cleanings.

Brown’s plan will allow dental providers to resume care, provided they meet similar requirements, including an adequate supply of personal protective equipment.

The governor’s office and Oregon Health Authority will develop the tools to monitor how providers meet the criteria. 

You can reach Ben Botkin at [email protected] or via Twitter @BenBotkin1.

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