Today, our state takes its first steps to reopening and bringing the economy back online.
Under the first phase of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step Plan to Reopen Florida,” businesses and residents alike will incrementally begin to open their doors, resume activities and create a new normal in the shadow of COVID-19.
As part of this plan, many hospitals will resume elective, or nonemergent, procedures and surgeries. Hospitals that are restarting some, or all, services have deemed it safe to do so given their community COVID-19 infection rates and their facility’s capacity.
This move comes more than six weeks after hospitals voluntarily suspended elective procedures to conserve limited personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary to keep their workforce safe and to ensure sufficient capacity as COVID-19 hospitalizations increased.
The decision to delay nonemergent medical procedures was absolutely right given the circumstances. Protecting our health care workforce — the front lines battling this new and deadly infection — had to be our priority.
Yet, we know the far-reaching, immediate impact of this decision.
Although considered “elective,” these procedures are not optional or mere personal choice. They are colonoscopies, hysterectomies, cataract extractions, joint replacements, and other surgical procedures integral to minimizing pain, improving quality of life and restoring health.
For some hospitals, the financial impact was so substantial it necessitated staff furloughs. More importantly, the impact fell on our Floridians who had to delay nonemergent care and forego diagnosis and treatment.
The reasons for PPE shortages are complex and varied.
Roughly half of our PPE is manufactured in China, where COVID-19 in January and February disrupted its ability to meet growing demand, not just in the U.S. but in every country across the globe.
Significant increase in use, combined with panic buying and other factors, caused cataclysmic disruption to the supply chain. The extraordinary demand for PPE is unprecedented.
Today, PPE availability has stabilized thanks to the implementation of evidence-based strategies, including social distancing and clinical guidelines outlining new protocols to safely decontaminate and reuse face masks and respirators.
Hospital capacity has also stabilized with critical care beds and ventilators now readily available.
In the days ahead, some hospitals will resume nonemergent procedures and services in phases or all at once. Others may not resume these procedures and surgeries until next week. In every community, our hospitals are taking necessary steps, that include developing new policies and protocols, to ensure they can safely get back to their work of helping all patients heal and feel better.
Florida’s hospitals are safe, ready and equipped to care for all.
The inimitable Mr. Rogers is famous for reminding us that when news or events are scary, we should “look for the helpers … you will always find people who are helping.”
If there is any bright spot in the darkness of the last couple of months, it is the health care workforce — the physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, environmental services staff and countless others who served their patients and communities with courage and compassion.
As we all work to create a new normal and adjust to life that looks and feels very different from just three months ago, we can be reassured that our hospitals and health care heroes are always here to help.
Crystal Stickle is the interim president of the Florida Hospital Association.