Some Alabama hospitals are canceling or delaying elective surgeries amid COVID surge

Published: Jan. 7, 2022 at 6:05 PM CST
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Some Alabama hospitals are canceling or postponing in-patient elective surgeries because of the recent surge in COVID cases.

Calling a surgery “elective” might make it sound optional, but that doesn’t make it’s any less important than a non-elective surgery.

An elective surgery is a procedure done for a medical condition that is not urgent or life-threatening.

Elective surgeries can include cosmetic procedures like removing a mole or a wart.

But they can also be more serious procedures like colonoscopies, hernia surgery, removing kidney stones, or even hip replacement surgery.

Doctors said while these surgeries done electively, they’re often important, life-changing operations.

The president of the Alabama Hospital Association, Dr. Don Williamson, said many area hospitals have more critical staff shortages now than they did back in August and September.

He says our hospitals are very full.

This week, Alabama had fewer than 10% of ICU beds, and in Jefferson County that number was at 8% with only about 34 available ICU beds.

That’s forcing hospitals to make the tough decision to cancel or delay elective procedures.

“I know in at least one large hospital system we’ve already got hospitals delaying in-patient elective surgeries. I expect that probably to expand across the state. While hospitals have great ability to flex and to enhance their capacity the rate-limiting factor in that ability to expand is staffing and we are in a very, very difficult situation,” Dr. Williamson said.

Dr. Williamson said each hospital makes the decision locally to cancel or delay in-patient elective procedures, but that decision is typically based on staffing, bed capacity, ICU bed availability, and how much COVID is in the community and the hospital.

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