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Most Baltimore-area hospitals halt elective surgeries to ease strain on resources amid coronavirus outbreak

More Baltimore-area hospitals and medical and dental offices are postponing elective procedures after the nation’s top doctor asked facilities to consider halting them as new coronavirus cases spread.

On Tuesday, March 17, Kaiser Permanente and MedStar Health were the latest to announce they are canceling certain procedures.

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Kaiser offices are rescheduling non-urgent surgeries and other procedures and health assessments for the coming weeks in anticipation of demands on the health care system from COVID-19.

Kaiser, which is expanding in Baltimore, also plans to add six walk-up and drive-up testing sites at its medical centers and to expand telehealth services and mail in pharmacy services.

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“As the COVID-19 situation rapidly advances, the demands on the nation’s health care system threaten to exhaust supplies, equipment, and our people, said Machelle Behzadi, Kaiser’s vice president of quality and safety.

In a statement, MedStar said it’s postponing all elective procedures and surgeries starting Thursday.

“Our department leaders and our physicians will make case-by-case decisions using the specific clinical circumstances of each of our patients,” the hospital system said in a statement.

This comes after Johns Hopkins Medicine, the University of Maryland Medical System and Lifebridge Health announced Monday that they will postpone elective procedures for two weeks starting Wednesday. Hopkins, UMMS and Lifebridge have multiple hospitals in the region.

Also starting Wednesday, officials at Anne Arundel Medical Center near Annapolis and Doctors Community Hospital in Lanham said they will “limit our surgeries and procedures to emergencies or urgent cases only." They plan to reassess the decision every 72 hours.

Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Towson canceled elective procedures beginning Tuesday.

The Maryland State Dental Association also said Tuesday that it was recommending all practices in the state voluntarily suspend non-essential dental care for at least three weeks, following guidance from the national organization. The group also said more stringent and mandated restrictions are possible.

Over the weekend, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams said on Twitter that continuing with elective procedures could expose facilities to the virus, overtax medical staff who are needed to respond to the pandemic, and use up reserves of personal protective equipment needed for health care workers.

“Hospital & healthcare systems, PLEASE CONSIDER STOPPING ELECTIVE PROCEDURES until we can #FlattenTheCurve!” Adams wrote.

In his Twitter post, Adams cited new recommendations from the American College of Surgeons that say hospitals should “thoughtfully review all scheduled elective procedures with a plan to minimize, postpone, or cancel” them until it’s clear the health care infrastructure can handle “a potentially rapid and overwhelming uptick in critical patient care needs.”

Another issue is the availability of beds to treat those with the COVID-19 illness who need hospitalization. The state has about 8,000 acute hospital beds of which 1,200 offer intensive care. That’s fewer than most expect will be needed. Gov. Larry Hogan said Monday morning that the state is attempting to open up another 6,000 acute care beds.

Tinglong Dai, an associate professor of operations management and business analytics at the Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School, said that for hospitals, “the stake at hand is not just resource limit, it is also about being part of the broad effort to ‘flatten the curve’ through social distancing.”

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“Hospital-acquired infections are another important concern,” he said. “From what we have seen from the rest of the world, particularly in Wuhan, China, quite a lot of patients were infected while seeking elective care in large hospitals at the early stage of the outbreak.”

GBMC said in a tweet Sunday night that it’s canceling the elective surgeries to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and because it’s “consistent with the CDC’s recommendations.”

UMMS announced its decision Monday, saying it will review the policy in two weeks. It made the move to minimize the risk of exposing patients and staff to the virus and “to ensure adequate availability of supplies and equipment that can be redirected to the care of COVID-19 patients,” said Dr. David Marcozzi, the system’s COVID-19 incident commander, in a statement.

At Hopkins, officials said Monday that their policy “will be reassessed routinely over this period of time to determine if it should be modified in any way or extended.”

LifeBridge, too, said it would reevaluate every two weeks and noted that the suspension does not apply to urgent or emergent procedures. The changes affect Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, Northwest Hospital, Carroll Hospital, Levindale and Grace Medical Center, but not its Surgicenters in Owings Mills and Ellicott City.

Baltimore Sun reporters Meredith Cohn and McKenna Oxenden contributed to this article.

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