Covid-19: Strained hospitals in Massachusetts delay non-urgent procedures

New cases in Massachusetts have risen from an average of about 1,300 early this month to more than 2,800. PHOTO: AFP

BOSTON (NYTIMES) - Hospitals in Massachusetts will cut back on non-urgent scheduled procedures starting Monday (Nov 29) because of staffing shortages and longer patient hospital stays, according to the state's health authorities.

Coronavirus cases have been rising in Massachusetts for several weeks, but hospitalisations have risen at a lower rate. The pressure on hospitals relates to other consequences of the pandemic, authorities said.

The staffing shortage, largely driven by the pandemic, has contributed to the loss of approximately 500 medical, surgical and ICU hospital beds in Massachusetts, according to the state.

And hospitals are seeing an influx of patients who need more complex treatment for health issues because they delayed visiting the doctor when Covid cases were higher.

The order, issued Tuesday, applies to hospitals that have less than 15 per cent of beds available, and applies only to procedures that are scheduled in advance and can be delayed without having a negative effect on patients' health. It does not apply to urgent and essential procedures.

Authorities said the order would help prepare for the annual increase in hospitalisations typically seen after Thanksgiving and through January.

Ms Marylou Sudders, the state's secretary of health and human services, said in a statement Tuesday: "Covid hospitalisations in Massachusetts remain lower than almost every other state in the nation, but the challenges the healthcare system face remain, and this order will ensure hospitals can serve all residents, including those who require treatment for Covid-19."

In Massachusetts, new cases have risen from an average of about 1,300 early this month to more than 2,800, and hospitalisations are up 47 per cent over the past 14 days, according to a New York Times database.

As of Wednesday morning, 740 people were hospitalised for Covid-19, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

State officials worked with the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association to develop the guidelines.

Dr Eric Dickson, the board chair of the association and the president and CEO of UMass Memorial Health, said in a statement: "While we recognise that delaying some pre-scheduled surgeries may present a significant hardship for patients, we believe it is a necessary step to assure that all of the Commonwealth's hospitals can continue to meet the needs of patients requiring emergency care."

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