SCHENECTADY — Ellis Hospital is preparing to resume elective surgical procedures, now that the state is allowing such surgeries to resume in Schenectady County.
The hospital said Thursday it doesn’t have a restart date but is eager to go back to work as soon as possible.
As the COVID-19 pandemic worsened, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Department of Health in March imposed a statewide moratorium on elective procedures to conserve personnel, supplies and hospital beds for patients ill with the virus.
The surge of COVID patients that overwhelmed downstate hospitals was never seen in most upstate facilities, however. Without the critical revenue stream that surgery provides, and with numerous employees suddenly idle, upstate hospitals furloughed or laid off hundreds of personnel.
In recognition of this, and of the steadily declining number of new infections and hospitalizations, Cuomo in late April allowed elective procedures to resume in 35 counties. Most Capital Region counties were excluded by a formula that balanced hospital bed capacity, current patient census and local virus infection rates.
Hospitals in excluded Capital Region counties sought waivers and one by one received them, except for Ellis.
On Wednesday, Cuomo allowed elective surgery to resume at hospital and ambulatory surgical centers in 12 more counties, including Schenectady and the other Capital Region counties initially excluded.
Ellis Hospital said Thursday it is ready to resume surgery. It has protocols in place to protect surgical patients from COVID infection, adequate empty beds to handle any future surge of COVID patients and sufficient supplies of masks and other personal protective equipment.
From a financial standpoint, the moratorium on surgeries has been costly to Ellis. In the last two weeks of March alone, Ellis canceled more than 6,500 visits or procedures, though that drop was partially offset by an increase in telemedicine visits. In mid-April, it furloughed 60 of its 3,300 employees and reduced the hours of 53 others.
There was also a human impact on the hundreds of patients living with physical limitations or pain while their medical conditions went untreated.
The surgical community avoids the use of the word “elective” — many procedures that are called elective are medically necessary, sometimes pressingly so. But patients and/or their surgeons can elect to delay them in the short term without making the underlying conditions too much worse.
Given the number of surgical support staff furloughed or reassigned to other duties during the moratorium in March and April, and because of the number of preconditions the state has attached to resumption of surgery, hospitals have needed to have a roadmap in place to resume full surgical operation and some time to implement it.
Ellis said Thursday it hasn’t set a date yet for this to happen.