As the Omicron variant of the coronavirus rages through Kentucky, some hospitals are stopping inpatient elective surgeries

Baptist Health Lexington (Baptist Health Foundation photo)

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

As the Omicron variant of the coronavirus skyrockets in Kentucky, hospitals and their intensive-care units continue to fill up, and a few Kentucky hospitals have begun to scale back on some elective surgeries.

One is Baptist Health Lexington. Dr. David Dougherty, an infectious-disease specialist at the hospital, said Tuesday that the hospital will postpone or scale back inpatient elective surgeries starting Wednesday. He said it will continue to do outpatient elective surgeries.

“The elective surgeries that we’re postponing right now are mostly the ones that are requiring an overnight stay, and they’re, you know, non-urgent or emergent cases,” he said. “And this is a fluid thing, you know, we’re assessing on a daily basis when this will end and we can do elective surgeries again.”

St. Elizabeth Healthcare in Northern Kentucky is also scaling back elective procedures by not scheduling any additional same-day and elective surgeries that require admissions through Jan. 8, and halting any non-emergency add-on cases until mid-January, the Northern Kentucky Tribune reports.

“Our community is in the midst of a surge from a mix of Delta-variant infections and Omicron-variant infections, the latter strain having a much shorter doubling time and infection rate,” said a statement from St. Elizabeth. “At the conclusion of the holiday season and people gathering, we are expecting to see incidence rates in our region over the next few weeks.”

Dougherty said the best way to slow down Covid-19 hospitalizations is for people to get vaccinated or boosted, noting that an influx of Covid-19 patients affects care for everyone.

“The more people we get vaccinated and boosted the more we can help to slow this down and decrease hospitalizations,” he said. “A lot of us are going to be exposed to Omicron, but if you’re vaccinated and especially if you’re boosted, your chances of getting hospitalized are much lower.”

Dougherty said the decision to postpone some elective surgeries is the result of both staffing issues and bed space, which go “hand in hand.” He said 85 of the 450 beds at his hospital are occupied by Covid-19 patients, and the number will increase; and Omicron puts hospital staff at increased risk of infection.
Doctors from CHI Saint Joseph Health and UK HealthCare said at the same press conference that they have not had to curtail elective surgeries, but said both Lexington hospitals consider it daily.
Dr. Ashley Montgomery-Yates, chief medical officer for inpatient and emergency services at UK, said “I would speculate that with our numbers continuing to rise, with the alarming rate, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.”
Yates also pointed to the real-life challenges associated with canceling elective procedures, noting that often what is considered elective may not feel very elective to patients who are dealing with diseases like cancer.
Dr. Dan Goulson, chief medical officer at CHI Saint Joseph Health, said hospitals are still caring for patients who had elective procedures cancelled earlier in the pandemic.
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