Health care unions share concerns about Gov.'s order allowing elective procedures

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An executive order from Gov. Walz will allow elective surgeries and procedures to resume starting next week. It includes medical, dental and veterinary clinics.

Healthcare providers will be required to create a plan outlining how they will prioritize procedures during the crisis, screen patients and visitors for COVID-19 symptoms, use and maintain an adequate supply of personal protective equipment, follow social distancing guidelines and inform patients of the risks associated with procedures during the pandemic. 

“Our nurses and frontline healthcare personnel are nervous about this decision,” said Gov. Walz. “I want to recognize that and know we have been in direct consultation with them.”

Multiple health care unions, however, responded negatively to the executive order on Tuesday.

“We are concerned about the lack of PPE available for essential frontline workers today,” said Jamie Gulley, president of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota. 

“We do not believe you can safely return all of the elective surgeries to Minnesota today and continue to have PPE available for those on the front lines. Right now today, we don't have enough PPE available in the long term care settings particularly, that's the worst area we're seeing for available supply. We think the state is working hard on this but this order is just too soon.”

He said thousands of their union members have been furloughed while elective procedures have been on hold. Still, Gulley believes supply needs to catch up to demand before they're allowed again.

“We’re just not ready yet,” he said. “We expect a surge in COVID cases to come in our community over the coming weeks and month.”

The Minnesota Nurses Association shared similar concerns in a statement. 

It reads, in part, “The Minnesota Nurses Association members are frustrated and disappointed with today’s decision to open the door for elective surgeries without adequate protection for workers. Nurses have warned the Governor, health officials, and hospitals that safety must come first before resuming elective procedures, including surgeries. With nurses currently unable to access adequate levels of PPE to address the COVID crisis, allowing elective procedures to resume will only put added strain on PPE distribution putting nurses, patients, and the public at risk.”

The executive order requires facilities to have enough PPE for elective procedures. They also must have enough stored away to account for potential commercial supply shortages and surges in COVID cases.

Healthcare companies told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS they plan to phase in the procedures. 

“I think that every healthcare system is going to be a little bit different,” said Dr. Bret Haake, Chief Medical Officer at Regions Hospital. “I think that it should be slow because we have had significant trouble getting the personal protective equipment that we need. At the same time, when people have life-threatening things, we need to take care of them as well.”

“We’re going to start with those things that people have put off that really need to be addressed.”

M Health Fairview said it plans to do the same, starting with surgeries for patients who face increased health risks before moving onto elective surgeries. According to the company, it will only postpone surgeries and procedures if they can be “safely delayed”.

Walz signs executive order allowing elective surgeries to resume

“Resuming surgeries for all of our patients who are waiting for care is on all of our minds every day,” said Dr. Peter Kelly, Executive Medical Director of Surgery and Vice President of Perioperative services for M Health Fairview. “We, too, feel the sense of urgency. Our surgeons are actively evaluating every individual need and thoughtfully moving ahead while balancing the realities of this pandemic.”

M Health Fairview said that surgical teams will contact patients directly once their procedure has been scheduled. 

The company said patients will be tested for COVID-19 48 to 72 hours ahead of their surgery, physicians and staff will be screened the day of the procedure, the number of staff needed for the procedure will be limited to preserve PPE, and only a limited number of people will be allowed in the procedure room. Patients will only be allowed to have a legal guardian, parent or appointed decision-maker to accompany them.

Allina Health said it is closely tracking its use and supply of PPE.

“We are grateful for Governor Walz’s careful approach to slowing the spread of COVID-19,” said Lisa Shannon, Chief Operating Officer at Allina Health. “It is because of the collective efforts to adhere to physical distancing and other practices that we were given the gift of time to prepare, which we fully utilized to increase our response capabilities. Safety is, and has always been Allina Health’s number one priority, and we are ready to continue serving all of the health care needs of our community.”  

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In the company’s statement, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tim Sielaff added, “We all need to work together to prevent a secondary health crisis of people avoiding necessary care because of fear. Getting operating rooms up and running again within the new guidance from the state is an important first step in addressing surgical care needs. At the same time, we want to ensure people feel safe getting the necessary care for stroke, heart disease, managing diabetes and other health care issues they may be experiencing.”

KSTP Medical Expert Dr. Archelle Georgiou said she was glad the Governor decided to allow elective procedures. She said those surgeries are not always optional.

“An elective procedure can range from having a mole taken off because it's been changing, to having a preventative screening test like a mammogram or a colonoscopy, to having major surgery like a knee replacement or a hip replacement,” she said. “In many cases, waiting will make a condition worse.”

Some patients have now been waiting six weeks for their procedure. 

“I was just having conversations earlier today about patients who have not had cardiac surgery, valve surgery, abdominal surgery and they're just waiting to have it done,” Georgiou said. "Finally those people will be able to get the care that they need. These are very serious conditions and there is such a backlog because patients haven't had care for two months that many of our healthcare providers in the state are a little worried there's going to be waiting lines for people to get the care that they need.”

Dr. Georgiou said there is some risk involved in having any medical procedure.

“Deciding whether to go in now for your elective procedure is really a tradeoff every single individual will need to make,” she said. “I think it’s important to remember that the Executive Order mandates safety precautions are put in place and healthcare facilities want to make sure it's as safe as possible for them and for you.”