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Most parts of WNY able to resume elective surgery, Erie County cannot

Posted at 6:42 PM, Apr 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-28 18:46:28-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Elective surgeries are one of the first things to "un-pause" in New York State.

The procedures resumed Tuesday in some parts of Western New York, but in Erie County, doctors are still waiting for the state to give them the green light.

Governor Cuomo said a county has to meet two criteria in order for the surgeries to resume. A county has to have more than 25 percent of its hospital space available, and fewer than 10 new COVID-19 hospitalizations in the past 10 days. Each individual hospital in a county that has elective surgeries also has to meet the criteria to be able to perform elective surgeries at that hospital.

C.J. Urlaub is the president of Mount St. Mary's Hospital in Niagara County, where elective procedures are already up and running again. He said the un-pause couldn't have come soon enough. The ban lead to a loss of crucial revenue.

"That's been a challenge because it came at a time when our expenses were going up for PPE, for additional staff," he said. "That really hit us with a double whammy."

Kaleida Health cited the loss of elective procedures as one of the reasons it offered voluntary furloughs to employees.

From a patient health perspective, the word elective could be misleading. Urlaub said delaying elective surgeries and procedures, like colonoscopies, for too long could be dangerous.

"You can wait a little while, but that doesn't mean your condition's getting better, and actually if you wait too long it may add some complications," he said.

Though the procedures began Tuesday, Urlaub said it wasn't like flipping a switch. Per state rules, patients first have to test negative for COVID-19. There is also pre-surgical testing. Urlaub said he expects the elective procedures to really ramp up at the end of the week.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said hospital executives he spoke with at Kaleida, ECMC, and Catholic Health believe they're in a position to do some elective surgeries. Catholic Health said all of its hospitals meet the capacity threshold, one of the reasons why Poloncarz is calling on the state to give Erie County permission to perform the procedures. He said he has sent weeks of county hospitalization data to Albany.

"It makes really no sense for them (other counties in WNY) to be doing elective surgeries, but the hospitals here in Erie County to not, if we can handle it and we can," Poloncarz said. "Based on the number of beds available we believe that we can handle it."

On Tuesday, the governor said the county can't.

"Western New York has a capacity issue," he said.

Other regions, like Albany and Downstate, also cannot resume elective procedures just yet.

If a county hospitalization rate goes back up, the elective procedures have to stop.