In Los Angeles, a severely ill patient has to wait for a new lung after his transplant, scheduled for last Friday, was canceled.
In San Diego, brain surgery to ease the chronic pain of a 7-year-old girl was called off last week.
In Arcadia, as many as 60 patients will likely have their surgeries canceled this week. In Folsom, at least 11 operations already were scrapped last week. And at one hospital in Anaheim, a patient waited on a gurney for back surgery for three hours before he was sent home because of lack of staff.
Throughout California, as COVID-19 infections deplete their staff of nurses, anesthesiologists and other essential workers, hospitals are canceling or postponing so-called “elective” surgeries to repair injured knees and aching back, remove kidney or bladder stones, and repair cataracts or hernias, among other procedures.
Alarmed by a growing shortage of specialized health care workers, the California Department of Public Health is evaluating whether to issue an order to hospitals statewide to suspend elective surgeries in cases in which patients wouldn’t be immediately harmed.
For now, the decision is voluntary for hospitals. But the state health department’s chief deputy director, Susan Fanelli, on Thursday told a meeting of county health officers, “We know (a directive on elective surgeries) has to be on the table.” Officials with the public health department did not respond to CalMatters’ requests for more information.
“Elective” means a surgery is not an emergency and can be scheduled in advance; it does not mean it’s optional. Waiting in some cases can be life-threatening.
Hospitals are carefully weighing which surgeries can be delayed, executives say. A cataract surgery or knee replacement might be canceled, for example, but not heart surgery or a breast cancer biopsy.
Image Credit: Mike Blake / Reuters