University of Utah Health to cancel all elective inpatient surgeries due to COVID case surge, staff illnesses, internal e-mail says

University of Utah Hospital. Photo Courtesy: U of U Hospital

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, Jan. 4, 2022 (Gephardt Daily) — The unparalleled surge in COVID-19 patients, coupled with soaring infection rates among medical workers is forcing University of Utah Health to cancel all elective inpatient surgeries starting Jan. 5 through the Jan. 14, and most likely for the next few weeks.

While the decision has yet to be made public, medical staff at the University were notified of the impending move Monday night in an internal e-mail attributed to Dr. Robert Glasgow, Interim Chair for the Department of Surgery at the University of Utah, and obtained by Gephardt Daily.

The e-mail, dated Jan. 3, 2022, illustrates just how dire the situation has become as front line medical workers and their colleagues prepare to deal with another onslaught of COVID-19 patients.

“In the entirety of the pandemic, I have never had to offer two updates on the same day. But, the perfect COVID storm has arrived,” Glasgow wrote. “You may have seen that the incidence of COVID in Utah has spiked over the holiday weekend with 14,754 cases since Thursday. Although the data shows the Omicron is less likely to result in serious infection, especially for those vaccinated, this significant rise is generating a significant increase in demands for inpatient beds.

“As important, the number of our faculty, APCs, residents, staff, nurses and other clinical staff who have contracted COVID is rapidly increasing. The good news is that we as vaccinated folks have minimal risk of getting seriously sick. The bad news is that if you get COVID, you can’t work until you clear the 5 or so day quarantine,” Glasgow wrote.

In addition to the cancellation of designated elective surgeries, the e-mail also detailed other valuable resources being impacted by staff illnesses, starting Tuesday.

“This afternoon, these forces aligned such that as of tomorrow we are having to close 40 acute care beds and 12 ICU beds at the same time the demand for the remaining beds is increasing. This prompted an urgent Ad Hoc meeting of the Perioperative Executive Committee with hospital and health system leadership this evening. Given these realities, a plan was approved that will significantly reduce the flow of patients from the operating room to the hospital acute and intensive care beds. Going forward, as of Wednesday, Jan 5 only the following cases will be allowed to proceed:

1. Ambulatory/Outpatient cases. This does not include Bedded Outpatients or 23-hour stays.

2. Urgent and Emergent cases. This includes cases that must happen with 12-24 hours or less.

3. Time sensitive elective Bedded and Outpatient or To Be Admit cases. Time-sensitive just defined to mean delay in doing the case by more than six weeks will result in significant risk of major physical morbidity and mortality. Adherence to this definition will be policed. Unfortunately, issues like insurance, emotional duress, significant complicating social factors, and scheduling difficulties or complexities (multi-surgeon cases) can’t be considered in time-sensitivity determination.

“This plan will go into effect this Wednesday, January 5th and will remain in place at least until Friday, January 14th. We believe it will be necessary beyond that date. We expect to make weekly adjustments as conditions change. Until this 4th wave dissipates, we’ll plan to hold weekly PEC meetings to update and refine our plans.

“In summary, all non-sensitive cases requiring an inpatient bed for one or more nights scheduled between Jan 5 and Jan 14 need to be rescheduled. We recommend doing so after February 1 to give time for this crisis to subside. Faculty and their scheduling staff are requested to notify impacted patients and OR scheduling office of changes in your schedules for Wed as early as possible tomorrow morning. As was done in the past, it will be important for us to keep track of these patients to facilitate their rescheduling. Please look for further updates.”

Glasgow’s e-mail also offered perspective on how the latest wave of infections was impacting medical workers and what they could do to minimize their exposure to the new, highly-transmissible Omicron variant.

“With the rise in infections it is a good idea to curtail unnecessary in-person meetings, social gatherings, and travel, again. There has not been a mandate prohibiting travel for work reasons as was the case pre-vaccine. Please use your discretion when making plans and be safe. If working in a clinical setting, it is best to wear a surgical mask rather than cloth mask. This would include clinics and rounding.”

U of U Health was unable to comment on the development late Monday night.

Gephardt Daily will update the story as more information becomes available.

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