Hospitals, surgical centers, and other medical facilities soon could be allowed to resume elective surgeries.
The latest indication of that timeline came from Gov. Ron DeSantis Thursday morning.
“We need to get these elective procedures back online,” DeSantis said during a conference call of the Re-Open Florida Task Force working group considering Agriculture, Finance, Government, Healthcare, Management and Professional Services.
“I worry we go much longer than what I’ve already done, and I think you could start seeing some negative impacts.”
The comments regarded medical procedures that were postponed last month. The current Executive Order runs out May 8, and one key hospital executive on the call said the state may be ready to move forward immediately thereafter.
“Hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers,” said Tampa General Hospital CEO John Couris, should be “ready to go live on the 9th.”
Agency for Health Care Administration head Mary Mayhew made the long-form case for hospitals getting back to business, with “urgent and emergent” care being top priority.
Hospitals have suffered losses since losing these income sources as bed and ICU space was cleared for what Mayhew called a “potential surge” of COVID-19 patients swamping the system.
With the growth of coronavirus cases slowing and hospital beds available in Florida, health officials on the working group call agreed that now is the time to consider when the state should resume most surgeries.
Mayhew said hospitals have suffered “significant financial pressure” from supplies, including PPE, and increased cleaning costs, with a “reduction between 25 and 40% of revenues.”
A “thoughtful process for reopening,” the AHCA head said, includes considerations of bed capacity, testing capacity, and PPE.
Mayhew suggested “continued prohibitions on visitors” would be one best practice for opening. As well, strict separation of COVID-19 patients from the general population would be recommended.
The PPE supply chain will be a crucial barrier for the health care industry in the coming weeks, Mayhew added. That point was illustrated by dental professionals, who told the task force that large quantities of their PPE were donated to hospitals. Now, they’re struggling to replace the equipment.
Tampa General Hospital’s Couris extolled Mayhew and DeSantis, before detailing “unintended consequences” for postponing these surgeries.
While a “pause” was necessary to “preserve PPE,” Couris contended, that pause should end given financial pressures, which could lead to furloughs and staff reductions.
“If we’re ready to go, then it’s time to get going on elective surgeries,” said state Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican.
Couris cautioned against rushing to a decision, saying that hospitals need clear-cut guidance on day one. The working group can’t focus on an individual hospital or area, he said.
It may take a couple of weeks, Couris said, “for the state” system to be ready. TGH, he added, could start now, as could other facilities, but a “responsible, thoughtful, and safe” approach would be best statewide.
“We have to make decisions based on what is the right and good thing for this state,” he said. “You should keep the Executive Order in place through May 8. We can start May 9.”
A phased rollout, suggested doctors on the call, may include prioritizing patients in severe pain or other medical distress. Others noted the impacts of delaying so-called elective procedures for people with cancer and other terminal diseases can be life or death decisions.
The DeSantis administration has been walking in lockstep with the industry throughout this crisis, and hospitals are ready to get back to a significant income stream.
The Florida Hospital Association (FHA) released its plan on Tuesday to resume elective surgeries. Steps include observing the rate of new infections, preventing transmission between patients and health care providers, establishing a transparent and collaborative prioritization process of elective surgeries and using hospital networks to fully restore health care services.
Recommendations from Re-Open Florida working groups are slated to be sent to DeSantis on Friday.
The Florida Medical Association and other medical groups already have asked DeSantis to end restrictions on nonessential surgeries, a move they say is necessary to keep struggling practices alive.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this post.