Hospitals push to resume elective surgeries

SEATTLE — At Swedish Health Systems, clinic visits have dropped by half and surgeries are down 40%.

Dr. Guy Hudson, Swedish’s CEO, says stopping elective surgeries to preserve hospital capacity was the right move, but now it’s time to restart them.

"Now that we have increased capacity, we have personal protective equipment, and we have much further capacity for testing and other things, now's the time in our opinion to reinstitute the elective surgery business," Hudson told KIRO 7.

Gov. Jay Inslee (D-Wash) has talked about restarting elective surgeries but has not yet announced a policy change.

Urgent surgeries have continued through the shutdown.

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Hudson said in March and April, the number of procedures at Swedish dropped by about 8,500 compared to 2019.

"About a third of those are cancer-related or screening-related or diagnostic-related procedures," he said.

Hudson said the cut in business is costing Swedish about $3 million per day.

So far, Hudson said that has not led to layoffs.

Hospital finances are a concern for nurses unions, who want to make sure their members have work.

But Sally Watkins, executive director of the Washington State Nurses Association, says the biggest concern about restarting elective surgeries is the lack of personal protective equipment.

"We still are hearing from our members that we don't have adequate PPE and if we start things back too quickly it's just going to exacerbate that problem," Watkins said.

The union produced a video showing soiled masks, and masks stored in paper bags to be used again.

“We don’t want to see those kinds of practices become the new norm and be considered acceptable,” Watkins said.

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The union says the extent of PPE problems varies between hospitals.

The WSNA does not represent nurses at Swedish, where CEO Guy Hudson confirms masks are still being cleaned and reused.

"If for any reason somebody needs a new mask, they are issued a new mask. All they have to do is ask," Hudson said.

Hudson says Swedish has improved it's PPE supply by diversifying its supply chain.

"We have enough PPE supplies," Hudson said as he looked over a list. "I have over two weeks in every category, which the list is about 20 things long."

The WSNA wants restarting elective surgeries to be contingent on an adequate PPE supply.