BREAKING: Atrium and Novant to reschedule non-essential surgeries

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Atrium, Novant plan to reschedule elective procedures, effective Wednesday, to make room for expected patient increases

Charlotte’s two big hospital systems, Atrium Health and Novant Health, plan to reschedule non-essential surgeries and procedures “to prepare for and respond to the possibility of increasing cases” of coronavirus, the companies said in a joint statement Tuesday.

Hospitals around the country have been taking similar steps, anticipating that they will need additional bed space as people contract the coronavirus. It also keeps people out of hospitals and away from people who are sick.

The companies “are rescheduling non-essential surgeries, procedures and ambulatory appointments, effective Wednesday, March 18,” they said in the statement. “Any emergency and essential services will continue uninterrupted.”

The move “allows each healthcare system to conserve critical resources and focus care on those that need it most.”

Patients with elective procedures scheduled will be contacted, and if they have questions, they should contact their doctor, Atrium and Novant said.

In an article on Monday, The Ledger examined the local hospital systems’ readiness for the expected increase in coronavirus, including the availability of beds:

In Mecklenburg County, Novant and Atrium are licensed for a combined 2,164 acute-care beds: 838 at four Novant facilities in Huntersville, Matthews, Mint Hill and the main Presbyterian Medical Center; and 1,316 at three Atrium facilities in Pineville, University City and Carolinas Medical Center.

Source: 2020 State Medical Facilities Plan, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services

Beds already full: The problem, nationally and locally, is that those beds are already full with patients who have a variety of ailments that have nothing to do with the coronavirus. Back in the fall, before anybody even knew what a coronavirus was, Atrium and Novant were each asking the state for permission to add beds. They said the need was so great that scheduling elective surgeries took too long, and some patients had to wait hours in the ER before a bed became available.

To free up bed space, hospitals could start rescheduling elective surgeries. The U.S. surgeon general said on Twitter over the weekend that hospitals should “consider stopping elective procedures,” and several hospitals around the country have begun rescheduling them.

National studies have estimated that about 25%-30% of acute-care beds are occupied by those recovering from elective procedures. Neither Novant nor Atrium … could immediately say how many beds that would free up.

Even if those beds suddenly became available, they might not be enough.

Waiving the rules: On Thursday, the state Department of Health and Human Services said it would waive the usual rules that require state permission to add beds, which are known as “certificate of need” laws.

That would free hospitals to add beds wherever they could put them, such as in hallways or in rooms not designed for acute care — provided that the hospitals had the actual beds, equipment and staff to handle such an increase in beds.

If needed, the hospitals could also work with the state and federal government to activate disaster medical assistance teams, or DMATs. They are composed of healthcare professionals who are available quickly to help communities struggling with natural disasters, terrorist attacks and other emergency situations.

Nobody is certain how many beds might be required in Mecklenburg. Confirmed cases seem to be growing quickly and are expected to accelerate once testing ramps up. Somewhere around 10% of those with the coronavirus require hospitalization. As of Sunday, there were four confirmed cases in Mecklenburg County. The county’s population is 1.1 million.


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The Charlotte Ledger is an e-newsletter and web site publishing timely, informative, and interesting local business news and analysis Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, except holidays and as noted. We strive for fairness and accuracy and will correct all known errors. The content reflects the independent editorial judgment of The Charlotte Ledger. Any advertising, paid marketing, or sponsored content will be clearly labeled.

Editor: Tony Mecia; Contributing editor: Tim Whitmire