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Justice calls for limits on elective surgeries as hospitals experience COVID-19 surges

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice said Monday that after conversations with major hospital leaders and the West Virginia Hospital Association, elective surgeries will be limited due to shrinking bed capacity at state hospitals.

Justice made the announcement Monday during his COVID-19 briefing at the State Capitol Building.

“Now you’re seeing a significant cutback of elective surgeries at our hospitals in order to ensure we will have hospital space,” Justice said.

Justice and state health officials said they’ve had conversations over the last several days with the Hospital Association and West Virginia University Medicine, one of the largest health systems in the state. Those hospital representatives raised concerns about the ever-increasing number of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

The talks started Monday after Justice heard Sunday from Albert Wright, president and CEO of the WVU Health System. “Wright is genuinely really concerned that our hospitals are going to be overrun,” Justice said.

Gov. Jim Justice encouraged West Virginians to wear masks until a vaccine is available. (Photo Provided)

Justice said he called for ending elective surgeries all together, which was done in by executive order on March 31 during the state’s shutdown during the Spring. That executive order was lifted April 27 as part of a phased re-opening of the state’s economy.

Instead of shutting down all elective surgeries again, state officials and hospital leaders have agreed to allow elective surgeries that do not require overnight stays. State officials hope that by limiting elective surgeries, more beds will be available for patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms.

Dr. Clay Marsh, the state coronavirus czar, said that should take some of the stress off of acute care hospitals.

“We will make sure we are all communicating and helping each other out, so that we can not only look at increasing capacity, but also start to look at systems in our state that may have more capacity than other systems and looking at ways we might be able to balance out some of the challenges that certain parts of our hospital system in the state are having with the volume and the speed of people coming to the emergency room and into the hospital room with COVID,” Marsh said.

Marsh said that hospitals are updating their surge plans to account for the current level of cases and hospitalizations. Hospitals are encouraged to review scheduled elective surgeries over the next 45 days and re-scheduled surgeries that are not urgent.

“We asked them … to reflect the idea that performing surgeries that will be done over the next 45 days as the initial timeframe to look at not doing the kinds of surgeries that can be put off, that aren’t urgent or emergent, that people need to stabilize their medical care, and to look at prioritizing putting of those surgeries that require an in-patient stay that would take up a hospital bed,” Marsh said.

According to the Department of Health and Human Resources, there were 597 hospitalizations as of Monday, up from 463 hospitalizations the previous week — a 29 percent increase.

The average number of hospitalizations between Nov. 16 and Nov. 29 increased by 57 percent over the average number of hospitalizations the previous 14 days. The number of infected people in intensive care units was 162 — up from 136 last week — and 76 people are on ventilators — up from 60 people last week.

Based on projections by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, West Virginia could run out of ICU space by Dec. 17 if the current rate of hospitalizations holds, though the state is nowhere close to exceeding total hospital capacity.

State officials said last month that its agreements with both Thomas Health Systems and West Virginia University Hospitals for use of St. Francis Hospital in Charleston and Fairmont Medical Center for COVID-19 surge capacity are still in place. If needed, less severe coronavirus cases could be transferred to these hospitals to make room for intensive care unit beds in other hospitals. St. Francis has 30 beds available and could expand to 60 beds if needed.

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