Intermountain Healthcare will postpone ‘urgent’ surgeries as COVID-19 cases fill ICU beds
These “are not minor interventions,” said the hospital system CEO.
Given that intensive care unit capacities are over 100% due to an increase in COVID-19 cases, the head of Utah’s largest hospital system said it would begin “urgent but not immediately life-threatening” operations in 13 Utah hospitals to move.
“We have done everything we can imagine to maintain the normal quality of care,” said Dr. Marc Harrison, President and CEO of Intermountain Healthcare, in a virtual press conference on Friday. “And it’s not enough.”
The number of trials, which will be delayed from Logan to St. George starting Wednesday and lasting at least a few weeks, will number in the hundreds, Harrison said.
These are “not insignificant procedures that are purely elective,” he said, adding that the delays have made people live with pain and uncertainty longer than usual.
“The break from surgery will be challenging – for you, your family, your friends,” said Harrison. “It will make people unhappy, it will make people afraid and in some cases it will make people unhappy.”
Intermountain hospitals are treating about 350 COVID-19 patients Friday, Harrison said – and about half of the system’s intensive care beds “are occupied by COVID-19 patients.” Nationwide, 529 people with COVID-19 have been hospitalized, state health authorities reported on Friday.
He cited predictions that conditions will worsen. “We believe we will need about 40 more intensive care beds and about 70 more general care beds in the near future,” said Harrison. “And guess what? We just don’t have them. … The cavalry is not coming. We are the cavalry, and when I say ‘we’ I mean the community as a whole.”
The delays in operations will affect these 13 hospitals: Logan Regional Hospital; McKay Dee Hospital, Ogden; Layton Hospital; LDS Hospital, Salt Lake City; Intermountain Medical Center, Murray; Park City Hospital; Riverton Hospital; Alta View Hospital, Sandy; American Fork Hospital; Utah Valley Hospital, Provo; Spanish Fork Hospital; Cedar City Hospital; St. George Regional Hospital.
Harrison, who was being treated for multiple myeloma in remission, said, “This has quickly become a pandemic of the medically frail – people like me, people with immunodeficiency – and the unvaccinated.”
About 87% of COVID-19 patients on the Intermountain system are unvaccinated, Harrison said. They’re typically 20 years younger than vaccinated patients and less likely to have other underlying diseases, he said.
In response to President Joe Biden’s statement Thursday that “our patience is waning” with people who remain unvaccinated, Harrison gave his own opinion: “I am not impatient with the person who chose not to give the vaccine receive. I am impatient with the situation. My hope is that the people, as people understand it, will – like the Utahners for so long – decide to be part of the solution and help their neighbors. “
Harrison cited the case of a man who recently came to one of Intermountain’s referral hospitals so sick that the emergency room doctors wanted him to be admitted. “He denied he actually had COVID, denied it was a problem at all,” Harrison said. “He came back a few hours later, was arrested and died.”
He urged unvaccinated people to “look into your hearts. What role do you see in ending this pandemic and providing your neighbors with the necessary medical care? I hope you get positive answers. And please, please, if you decide against vaccination, you must be extremely careful. You need to isolate yourself. You have to wear a mask. We don’t want you to be another person whose life is ruined or ended by an unnecessary COVID infection. “
Harrison said surgery delays will not be ordered at Intermountain’s rural hospitals, Orthopedic Surgical Hospital, or Primary Children’s Hospital – although some cases can be postponed as needed depending on individual circumstances.
Intermountain still does not require its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, Harrison said. He noted that the company’s vaccination rate “is north of 80% … and getting better every day. We believe in people’s ability to make their own decisions. And they generally make what I think are very, very good decisions. “