Southern California Hospitals Postpone Elective Surgeries During COVID-19 Surge

Southern California Hospitals Postpone Elective Surgeries During COVID-19 Surge
A patient lies on a stretcher in a hallway in the overloaded emergency room at Providence St. Mary Medical Center amid a surge in COVID-19 patients in Apple Valley, Calif., on Jan. 5, 2021. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Some Orange County hospitals have suspended elective surgeries as they struggle to keep pace with an ongoing pandemic that continues to push the boundaries of health care capacity.

Local health officials made the call to postpone nonessential procedures following a state health order that sought to more effectively prioritize patient care. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) directed health centers to categorize elective surgeries through a tier scale endorsed by the American College of Surgeons.

“The health order delays elective surgeries ‘and non-life-threatening’ surgeries but it does not affect surgeries involving serious medical conditions, like cancer removal or heart surgeries,” Adam Blackstone, spokesperson for the Hospital Association for Southern California, told The Epoch Times via email Jan. 11.

“This is a measure that many hospitals in highly affected areas have already undertaken to accommodate the massive influx of COVID-19 patients.”

The Jan. 5 order follows a tier system for counties experiencing less than 10 percent intensive care unit (ICU) availability in regions with zero percent ICU capacity.

Southern California regional ICU bed capacity remained at zero percent on Jan. 11. In Orange County, 3,259 new cases of COVID-19 were reported, alongside 29 deaths. Right now, 2,221 Orange County residents are hospitalized with the disease, including 544 in intensive care.

The MemorialCare group—a health system that includes Saddleback Medical Center, Orange Coast Medical Center, and the Long Beach Medical Center—was among those forced to delay some medical procedures.

“We have postponed all elective surgeries and procedures that can be delayed in compliance with [the order],” Saddleback Medical Center spokesperson Debra Culver told The Epoch Times via email on Jan. 11. “In addition, we continue to comply with and monitor any additional guidance from the CDPH and other state agencies.”

Changes have also been made at the Hoag Health Network’s Irvine and Newport Beach hospitals, according to the network's medical director of infection prevention.

“We have a number of plans to increase capacity at the hospital,” Dr. Philip Robinson said Jan. 11 in a statement sent to The Epoch Times. “We have cancelled elective surgeries to reduce the strain due to an increase in patient volume, allowing us to keep beds open.”

Much like the rest of Southern California, Hoag hospitals are experiencing a surge that’s expected to last several weeks, Robinson said.

“We currently have capacity at both hospitals thanks to the tireless work of our clinical teams caring for all of our patients,” he said.

“We are also redeploying nurse resources from other service lines to the COVID units. We’ve trained up nursing staff so that we can migrate medical personnel from med surge to critical care to help handle increasing volume of patients. We have many physicians and medical staff that are stepping forward and working long hours to meet the needs of the community.”

As doctors and nurses continue working long shifts to treat patients, Robinson called on the public to do its part to help too.

“We’ve been asking the community to do their part to curb this rise in cases, and continue to do so,” he said. “At this point, we all know what to do: stay home as much as possible, keep your mask on when you are out and refrain from gathering.

“This commitment and effort by everyone is required to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, protect the community’s most vulnerable populations, and reduce the impact on our health care resources.”

Michelle Thompson is an editor and reporter based in Orange County, California. Her award-winning work has appeared in numerous major Canadian daily newspapers, as well as multiple U.S. publications.