Thousands of patients in line for elective procedures in Minnesota

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Health care providers will be allowed to resume elective procedures next week under a new executive order from Governor Tim Walz.

“The announcement couldn't come soon enough,” said Mark Whiting. “Hopefully the clinics and the doctors can get things rolling fast.”

Whiting's wife, Cristine, suffers from severe back pain caused by a joint dysfunction. She hasn’t been able to get the steroid injections needed to treat it since elective procedures were paused in March.

“There’s just constant pain in her back,” said Whiting. “It hurts to sit, it hurts to stand, it hurts to lay down so she's just constantly in this high pain. It just hurts, it's frustrating.You hate to see your loved one suffer.”

He said she goes to iSpine Pain Physicians in Maple Grove for the injections every three months.

“There’s really no good cure for the problem she has so the best doctors can do is to treat the pain,” Whiting said.

She had an appointment scheduled for the first week in April.

“By the time two months have rolled around they're starting to really wear off so that last month is always a kind of grit your teeth and get through it," he said. "That’s what’s been really frustrating her now is she doesn't know, even now, how much longer this will go until she can get treatment done.”

They were relieved to hear on Tuesday that those treatments can now resume. They’re worried, however, about a possible backlog.

“It’s always busy so I imagine there are hundreds of patients a week who aren't getting treated that are all eagerly waiting to jump in,” said Whiting.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached out to several major health care providers to get a gauge how many patients are waiting statewide. HealthPartners said they don’t have an estimate. M Health Fairview said they have delayed about 4,500 procedures.

“Our priority is to treat the most critical patients first and all decisions about elective surgeries will be made after ensuring we have the proper [personal protective equipment] and other supplies necessary to treat all the patients in our system,” said Spokesperson Aimee Jordan. “Our entire system is working together to ensure we can support our healthcare workers and keep them safe.”

There are about 4,000 patients waiting for elective procedures in the Allina Health system.

“It’s a significant list of individuals that require surgical care we think we can attend to a significant portion of them, more than half easily,” said Dr. Tim Sielaff, Allina’s chief medical officer. “We’re working basically day and night to get our pre-op clinics perfectly well organized with testing, and getting space in the operating room, time in the operating room to care for individuals.”

He said they will balance those patients with the demands from COVID-19.

“We are going to take this time between now and the expected surge to meet the needs of those surgical patients first and foremost with the most time sensitive needs,” said Dr. Sielaff.

He said, due to the current crisis, they may not be able to get to all of the elective procedures done immediately.

“As that utilization of our bed capacity, utilization of our ICU capacity goes up, it’s conceivable that we will have to put a pause on this again,” he said. “That’s why we’re really working very hard to take the best advantage of this timeframe that the governor has given us between now and when the surge arises.”

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