Will ASCs halt surgeries as COVID-19 surges? Execs prep for next few months

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are surging again, with hot spots primarily in southern states like Texas, Louisiana and Florida, according to The New York Times' Aug. 6 data.

An increasing number of hospitals and health systems in those states are delaying elective surgeries to focus on COVID-19 patients.

Cherokee Gonzales, BSN, RN, regional director of ambulatory surgery centers at Florida Medical Clinic in Land O' Lakes, said her centers are preparing to receive elective procedures the hospitals will defer because of COVID-19 surge capacity plans.

"I expect the next few months to be busy. I don't expect the Florida government to shut down alternative sites of care like they did in March 2020, so we are doing our best to be ready," she said. "We learned a lot last year about being prepared."

Ms. Gonzalez said the center will maintain infection control protocols implemented during the pandemic. She also is stocking up on supplies and contracting with staffing agencies to bring additional staff on board.

"Most importantly, we are looking at ways to maintain and care for the staff we have," she said.

ASC administrators in Texas, like Alfonso Del Granado, who heads up Covenant High Plains Surgery Center in Lubbock, are watching the numbers closely.

"Hospitals here are creeping up to the 15 percent threshold, and if they decide to clamp down on elective cases, we'll have to be mindful about putting into effect contingency plans to limit cases that are at higher risk for transfer," Mr. Del Granado said. "We are also continuing to enforce existing screening and testing protocols, and are keeping up our personal protective equipment inventory. That said, we do not believe there will be a renewed crisis that would likely affect operations."

Covenant High Plains Surgery Center's team is working with its hospital partner and national management company to forecast COVID-19 cases in the area, and Mr. Del Granado said he is cautious but hopeful.

"We are continuing to plan for increasing cases over the next few months and are not suspending implementation of new programs, but of course we always have contingencies in place in case conditions change," he said.

Jessica Hovland, DNP, RN, administrative director of ambulatory surgery center at UT Health Austin ASC, is taking a similar approach as Mr. Del Granado. She has not implemented any changes to ASC operations yet but plans to support hospitals in the community as they consider canceling some elective surgeries.

"Whatever we can do to continue offering the care that is needed throughout Austin and the surrounding cities, we are determined to remain a strong force that can provide those resources," Dr. Hovland said.

Susan Cheek, administrator of Dallas Endoscopy Center, plans to continue safety measures and protocols through the surge.

"We restrict outside visitors and family members from coming into our ASC," she said. "We also require all patients, employees and physicians to have their temperature checked and complete a health questionnaire screening upon entering the ASC. We require masks of all at the ASC."

For some centers, access to supplies will determine whether operations will go on during the surge. Celia Smith, RN, BSN, administrator of Houston Premier Surgery Center in The Villages, sent an email to staff members reminding them of the CDC's guidance on N95 masks and treating intubated patients.

Kim Price, RN, administrator of Central Kentucky Surgery Center, said her ASC hasn't made any changes during the current surge but could in the future.

"For the next few months, we are just very tightly watching supply chains, and, when opportunities arise, we are buying in bulk," she said. "We are all just hoping the end of all this will come sooner rather than later."


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