Hospitals Are Canceling Surgeries Because Of Coronavirus

'There’s a world of need and a hierarchy of need,' a patient said.

hospital staff perform surgery
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'There’s a world of need and a hierarchy of need,' a patient said.

Some hospitals are canceling surgeries due to coronavirus, leaving some patients — including cancer patients due to have cancerous tissue removed — in the lurch, The New York Times reports.

More than one expert has warned that the worst of coronavirus is yet to come and that the U.S. health care system — already strained — may not be able to bear the weight of all of the patients who will soon be needing life-or-death care.

In the meantime, hospitals need to preserve their precious and ever-decreasing stores of supplies, as well as beds and employees’ time, for the expected crush of coronavirus patients.

In some places, particularly hard-hit and densely-populated cities like New York and Seattle, that means canceling elective surgeries. In some cases, necessary surgeries are being delayed until further notice as well.

“While our supplies may be sufficient today, we are practicing the responsible allocation of those resources that will be necessary to continue our care into the future we have yet to see,” an email — obtained by The New York Times — read in part. The email was sent to surgeons at one Seattle hospital.

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 15: A view of NewYork–Presbyterian Hospital Emergency sign as the coronavirus continues to spread across the United States on March 15, 2020 in New York City. The World Health Organization declared coronavirus (COVID-19) a global pandemic on March 11th. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images)
  Cindy Ord / Getty Images

“We recognize based on current data that our local COVID-19 trajectory is likely to be similar to that of Northern Italy,” the email noted.

The American College of Surgeons recommends that every last surgeon in the country, along with every hospital and health system, take a serious look at how necessary the surgeries currently on their schedule actually are, and postpone non-essential ones.

Unfortunately, the line between “essential” and “non-essential” can be a hazy one, particularly when it comes to cancer patients. Delaying those surgeries is ultimately a judgment call.

“The gray area are the cancer patients,” said Dr. Arooj Simmonds, directory of surgery at a Seattle-area health system.

Some cancers — like prostate or cervical cancer — move more slowly than other types, so surgeries related to those are almost certainly going to be delayed.

Cancer patient Alison Krupnick found out her surgery was going to be postponed the hard way. Having been diagnosed with early-stage cervical cancer, she hoped that a scheduled surgery would stop her cancer before it started. Now, however, it’s canceled until further notice.

“I’m mindful of the greater good and understand we’re all suffering and there’s a world of need and a hierarchy of need,” Krupnick said. However, she also noted that — though she understands what’s going on — she’s still concerned that the “time bomb” inside her may get worse while she waits.