Non-emergency surgeries resume at La. hospitals as precautions mitigate COVID-19 threat

Updated: Apr. 27, 2020 at 6:01 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Elective procedures resumed at Louisiana hospitals Monday, April 27 for the first time since Governor John Bel Edwards issued the stay-at-home order last month. The change is a sign that social distancing efforts are working to mitigate the COVID-19 threat in Louisiana.

Gov. Edwards eased restrictions on hospitals and clinics after state modeling indicated medical facilities will not be overwhelmed by coronavirus patients, as was once feared. He has called it a first step toward reopening the state’s economy.

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“There’s a lot of people who really need surgery and have conditions that will get worse if they don’t,” Our Lady of the Lake hospital surgeon Dr. Phillip Allen said. “They’ve already been waiting, in some cases, for 30 days or more.”

Allen says there is a backlog of patients and the people who need treatment most will get it earliest. For example, a cancer patient who had to postpone a surgery will be prioritized over a patient who postponed a regular checkup.

“This is something that we’re going to work on and re-evaluate week-by-week, and as we see the ability we’ll begin to expand services more and more until we get back to our new normal,” Allen said. “I think a lot of these people are quite relieved that they can go ahead and proceed with their plans.”

Non-emergency patients at Our Lady of The Lake will go through a unique screening process where they’ll receive personal protective equipment. Some at-risk patients will be tested for the coronavirus before their procedure.

A person who tests positive would have to postpone a non-emergency visit, Allen said.

“If you need a surgery, this is a safe place to be,” Allen said. “We’ve done an excellent job separating (coronavirus-positive patients).”

Holly Hollis Stars, a breast cancer survivor, had to postpone a routine bone scan that would ultimately determine whether her cancer has returned. It was rescheduled for May in anticipation of the looser restrictions.

“You expect these scans on a regular interval, get a little nervous beforehand, and hopefully you’re relieved afterward,” she said. “You kind of get yourself worked up for that date and then when it’s postponed, it does cause a little bit of extra anxiety.”

Before Edwards eased restrictions on medical operations, Hollis Stars did not know when she would be able to get her routine scans. She says she’s grateful Louisianans are taking the stay-at-home order seriously.

“I know it’s frustrating not to be able to go out to eat and go to the movies, but for someone who is actively thinking about or fighting cancer, their ‘normal’ is regularly-scheduled scans, blood work, and meeting face-to-face with their doctors," she said. “Whether they’re here or not depends on that.”

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