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Some Utah hospitals still performing elective surgeries

Posted at 8:13 PM, Mar 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-20 22:13:57-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Some hospitals across Utah have decided to continue performing elective surgeries despite recommendations from state and federal government leaders.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams and the American College of Surgeons have asked doctors and hospitals to stop elective procedures in order to reduce exposure to the novel coronavirus.

Leaders are also concerned with hospitals running low on personal protective equipment which is necessary to treat patients safely.

Earlier this week, both Intermountain Healthcare and University of Utah Health announced they will be postponing hundreds of non-urgent elective surgeries to prepare for an expected surge of coronavirus patients.

In a press conference Friday afternoon, Lt. Governor Spencer Cox praised Intermountain Healthcare and University of Utah Health for following government recommendations.

"Yes, we are delaying elective surgeries," Cox said. "My understanding is that most – close to all – will be making that same change very very soon."

Other hospitals have stated that it's unclear where to draw the line in determining whether to keep the operating room open.

HCA Healthcare, a for-profit company that runs eight MountainStar hospitals in Utah, has chosen to postpone some, but not all, surgeries.

Mike Graul, a spokesperson for the company, said HCA Healthcare is evaluating each surgery on a case-by-case basis. He said the company is following a different set of recommendations.

"We are following the recommended guidelines from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to review scheduled procedures based on a number of factors, including the urgency of the procedure, the clinical judgement of our physicians as well as the current circumstances in the facility and the community," Graul wrote. "We will continue to follow recommendations and adjust accordingly as we move forward through this process where information is constantly changing."

Michelle McOmber, the CEO of the Utah Medical Association, said she is also recommending doctors follow CMS guidelines.

"I don't believe that any of (our physicians) would put anybody at risk unnecessarily," McOmber said. "I don’t want to make any accusations. I don’t think it’s fair to make accusations to that extent. I think that everybody will be socially conscious and will do the right thing at the right time."

Steward Health Care, a for-profit company which runs 17 locations in Utah, has also chosen not to cancel all elective surgeries.

Jodi Dejong, a spokesperson for Steward Health Care, said the decision whether to postpone a surgery is up to the doctor and patient to decide. The company follows CMS guidelines, Dejong said.

FOX 13 asked if certain minor procedures, such as cosmetic surgery, will be automatically canceled.

"What about a nose job?" reporter Adam Herbets asked.

"Not necessarily," Dejong said. "That would be up to the doctor and patient to discuss."

According to a letter sent from the American Hospital Association to Surgeon General Jerome Adams, many doctors are concerned with the government's recommendations.

"We are concerned about recent comments by government officials that could be interpreted as recommending that hospitals immediately stop performing elective surgeries without clear agreement on how we classify levels of necessary care," the letter reads in part. "A blanket directive to cancel elective and non-urgent procedures usurps the proper role of the physicians caring for patients and their families, collaborating closely with the hospital, to determine what is in the patient’s best interests."