Statewide COVID-19 surge causing many metro hospitals to delay surgeries

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Hospitals across the state are delaying surgeries to free up bed space in the face of growing concerns over hospital capacity constraints.

"Things have been getting worse in the last couple of weeks," said Rahul Koranne, president and CEO of the Minnesota Hospital Association. "We have emergency departments that are full of patients. We have patients in beds in hallways. Our units are full."

Only 1.1% of ICU beds and 0.5% of non-ICU beds were available in the metro Thursday, according to response capacity data from the Minnesota Department of Health.

"Everybody’s delaying surgeries. We’re pulling this lever across the board. Our care teams, our leaders, our surgical teams are making this decision minute by minute," Koranne said. "Shoulder surgeries, knee surgeries, but even the last couple of weeks, what we are having to do unfortunately is push back some heart surgeries. At the end of the day, we only have a limited amount of care capacity available."

Dale Goettsch in Burnsville said his knee replacement surgery, scheduled for next week, is now pushed back until April.

"They said your surgery’s been canceled due to COVID. The beds are full, and therefore we’ll have to reschedule. It was devastating. Now I have to go five more months in pain," Goettsch said. "The pain is excruciating. It won’t be long if I continue. I won’t be able to walk."

Goettsch said the earliest M Health Fairview could reschedule his surgery was late January. Still, they could not give him any specific dates because of the uncertainty surrounding the current COVID surge, so he chose what he hopes will be a more secure date in April.

M Health Fairview provided this statement to 5 EYEWITNESS News:
"We are experiencing extremely high patient volumes, like every other system statewide, driven primarily by an increase in COVID hospitalizations and significant staffing shortages. To preserve staffing for the most urgent and time-sensitive patient needs, we are postponing some surgeries and procedures only if they can be delayed without prolonged negative consequences to patients. We will continue to assess whether it is appropriate to postpone any surgery or procedure. Our providers continue to ensure patients have a care plan while they wait for their operation. Our emergency departments remain open for patients requiring emergency medical attention. We never turn away patients seeking emergency care. Patients will continue to receive top-quality care. But, most importantly, Minnesotans can do their part to fight the current COVID surge that will help return our patient volumes to normal levels by wearing masks, diligent hand washing, and getting a vaccination."

5 EYEWITNESS News reached out to most of the major health care systems in the metro, and all reported delaying surgeries to free up capacity.

"Schedulers, nursing staff, the entire system is running white-hot," said Dr. Mark Sannes, an infectious disease physician and senior medical director at HealthPartners. "We are rescheduling dozens of patients on a weekly basis. It’s likely going to be pushed out a month, maybe longer. And with months of patients potentially that are going to be rescheduled, getting them back on to a schedule is going to be a challenge."

Sannes said the current surge of COVID-19 patients is pushing many of their hospitals over 100% capacity on a daily basis. He said a majority of their hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated.

"I think we focus first on those folks who can avoid being hospitalized. The biggest part of that group right now is the unvaccinated population, taking up 100 of those hospital beds that we need right now, and working that number down as best we can," Sannes said. "These are vaccines we think people need to get on board with, or we’re going to continue in the same crisis we’ve been in, really, for the last two months."

Hennepin Healthcare provided this statement on delaying surgeries at their hospitals:
"We carefully monitor our elective surgery schedules and unfortunately have had to postpone many surgeries to accommodate the high volume of inpatients we’ve been experiencing since July."

Allina Health also provided this statement:
"Allina Health’s top priority is ensuring that as a system, we are able to continue to fulfill our key commitment to care for the communities we serve. We are operating at maximum capacity in our hospitals, and we are doing everything we can to balance the health care needs of all our patients across our system. Like every other health care system in the state, we are monitoring our hospital volumes and carefully managing our surgery schedules as safely as we can to ensure that patients that need us are getting the care they need. Rescheduling and delaying surgeries are decisions we do not take lightly, and we understand the impact it has on our patients and our providers. We are currently experiencing one of the most challenging times we have faced throughout the pandemic, while we continue to provide care for COVID patients and patients with other health care needs. The continued increase in COVID-positive patients that we are currently experiencing is impacting our hospital volumes and our capacity to do inpatient surgical procedures. In order to see improvement over our current situation, we need our communities’ help. We urge everyone to follow the public health guidance to minimize the spread of COVID-19 – social distance, wear a mask, and get the COVID and flu vaccines."