WI Hospitals Need Cash. So They're Restarting Elective Surgeries.
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Providers still cautious about preserving supplies of PPE, drugs needed for ventilators patients, in case of a local flare-up. But health and revenue concerns prompt return to more services.

Hospitals across Wisconsin are again performing non-emergency surgeries, resuming care they postponed since mid-March as they prepared for a possible surge of COVID-19 cases. 

Amid fears of infecting patients with the coronavirus and worries the virus could overwhelm hospitals and leave them dangerously short of personal protective equipment, care was reserved for only the most seriously-ill patients. 

But two months after cases of the virus began climbing in the state, hospitals say they have the capacity to begin providing elective surgeries and other procedures again. Most parts of the state have not seen a high number of COVID-19 cases and medical officials said they feel comfortable monitoring the spread of the virus as hospital business returns to normal.

In a news release issued Monday, Marshfield Clinic Health System said it had resumed performing non-urgent surgeries at its Eau Claire and Marshfield hospitals. During the next several weeks, Marshfield officials anticipate increasing the number of procedures at its hospitals in Rice Lake, Neillsville, Beaver Dam and Ladysmith, as well as outpatient surgery centers in Minocqua and Wausau. 

Six weeks ago Marshfield paused non-urgent procedures in an effort to protect patients from COVID-19 by limiting face-to-face contact and using telehealth options instead, said Dr. Susan Turney,the chief medical officer of the Marshfield Clinic Health System in a statement.

“Now, and in carefully following CDC, CMS and state of Wisconsin guidelines and a review of local COVID-19 cases, we are executing a phased approach to perform additional procedures while concurrently continuing to plan for COVID-19,” she said. 

Delayed care for patients has prompted additional complications and pain for them, hospital administrators said.

“We as an industry are safe, we’re prepared, we’re ready to serve,” Jesse Tischer, president of regional markets for Aspirus, told Wisconsin Health News. “Patients shouldn’t delay care because we’re ready to help them.” 

Hospital staff will continue to adhere to safety guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19, officials said. The wearing of masks will be required, as will social distancing, screening people who enter hospitals for the illness, and testing patients for the virus before procedures. 

Hospital administrators said they have obtained more personal protective equipment in recent weeks that was in short supply, allowing them to begin offering some patient procedures again. The procedures they are resuming are designed to preserve the protective equipment as much as possible, they said. 

Resuming services come as hospitals have recorded significant lost revenue while shutdown for COVID-19. The Wisconsin Hospital Association estimates hospitals statewide lost out on about $262 million weekly because of delayed services. 

Elective surgeries like hip and knee replacements generate revenue for hospitals. Treating patients with COVID-19 is not an equal revenue generator. 

Other hospitals across the state said they also are starting to resume patient care delayed by COVID-19. Officials at Gundersen Health System in La Crosse and southwestern Wisconsin said they are beginning a phase-in of patient services. 

Mayo Clinic Health System, with hospitals in Eau Claire and La Crosse and clinics in northwest and southwest Wisconsin, resumed offering patient services on May 1. 

“We know many of our patients whose visits were deferred need our care now,” Dr. Richard Helmers, regional vice president, Northwest Wisconsin Region, Mayo Clinic Health System, said in a news release.

Similarly, HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire and HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls started-up some non-urgent surgeries on May 4. 

In the Madison area, officials at UW Health, UnityPoint Health-Meriter, and SSM Health said they are slowly resuming patient procedures after they were postponed because of COVID-19.

Likewise, many hospitals in southeast Wisconsin report the resumption of some patient services. For example, Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network, began resuming a small number of non-emergency surgeries on May 1, officials said.

As hospitals begin offering more services, they continue to adhere to safety guidelines to prevent the possible spread of COVID-19, officials said. The wearing of masks will be required, they said, as will social distancing, screening people who enter hospitals for the illness, and such measures as testing patients for the virus before procedures. 

Hospital administrators said they have obtained more personal protective equipment in recent weeks that was in short supply, allowing them to begin offering some patient procedures again. The procedures they are resuming are designed to preserve PPE as much as possible, they said. 

Resuming hospital services comes as they have recorded significant lost revenue while shut down for COVID-19. The Wisconsin Hospital Association estimates hospitals statewide lost out on about $262 million weekly because of delayed services.