Intermountain and other U.S. hospitals are postponing non-elective procedures amid bed and staff shortages

US hospitals postpone non-elective procedures amid bed and staff shortages

September 15, 2021
by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter
Non-urgent and elective procedures are being put on hold across the U.S. as providers grapple with overcapacitated ICUs facing devastatingly high surges in COVID-19 and Delta cases. One of the latest to join this trend is Intermountain Healthcare in Utah, where an increase in pandemic patients has led it to postpone all non-urgent surgeries and procedures for several weeks, beginning September 15.

“We will evaluate the situation on an ongoing basis. When feasible, consolidation of remaining surgeries or procedures may take place to help free up surgical teams to be redeployed in our hospitals,” it said in a statement.

Patients affected will be notified by telephone. Once the surge subsides, postponed procedures will be rescheduled, says the provider. Its affected hospitals include Logan Regional; McKay-Dee (Ogden); Layton; LDS Hospital (Salt Lake); Intermountain Medical Center (Murray); Riverton; Alta View (Sandy); Park City; American Fork; Utah Valley (Provo); Spanish Fork; Cedar City; and St. George. Rural hospitals, TOSH and Primary Children’s will continue with non-urgent surgeries and operations that require hospital admissions but may postpone cases as needed depending on the circumstances.

Hospitals in Indiana have also taken the same approach, with Eskenazi Health and Columbus Regional Health putting holds on procedures, according to Modern Healthcare. Indiana University Health also shut down elective procedures for at least two weeks and will extend the suspension, if needed, in two-week intervals, according to The Associated Press.

"We've seen a big surge — in high volumes — of COVID cases, and pretty much everything. But the COVID burden is adding a great deal to it all,” Dr. Chris Weaver, an emergency medicine physician and senior vice president of clinical effectiveness for IU Health, told The AP.

In Maine, which has the worst case count in New England, the state's largest healthcare network, MaineHealth, has reduced surgeries by 30 percent earlier this month, according to the Portland Press Herald.

Many hospitals are considering options like postponement due to being currently filled to capacity in the ICU and their staff being overwhelmed with the number of COVID cases at hand. In the South, more than 95% of ICU beds are filled in one out of four hospitals, up from one in five last month, making it hard to care for the sickest patients, reports The New York Times. All ICU beds are currently filled in Alabama, while Texas currently only has 700 free ICU beds left.

“It means they’re in the waiting room, some are in the back of ambulances, things of that nature,” said Jeannie Gaines, a spokesperson for the Alabama Hospital Association.

Another challenge for some is a shortage of workers. Henry Ford Health System in Michigan has been forced to cut about 120 patient beds (7%) from its five hospitals for this reason. The majority of beds were in general care, though some were in ICUs. With 95% of its beds filled, patients are waiting as long as six hours in the ER, according to Crain’s Detroit Business.

And just last month, the LA Times reported that Scripps Health in San Diego chose to delay medical procedures and announced that it was considering consolidating its outpatient locations to better manage the shortage of workers and demand for beds amidst the rising number of COVID-19 cases.

Intermountain, meanwhile, says it will continue to provide care in urgent situations and for emergency patients. “While this pause in surgeries may create challenges for some patients, it is a necessary and appropriate step, given the sharp spike in hospitalizations for patients with COVID-19.”