Hospitals across the country are scaling back elective surgeries again due to an influx of COVID patients. It’s taking a toll on patients in need, as well as healthcare workers.
“We basically got pushed to our limit here over the past few weeks, which meant we had to shut off everything except emergency surgery not previously as we did...but simply because we didn't have the ICU beds, we didn't have the nursing personnel, and we didn't have the people to adequately take care of patients,” Dr. Mark Dougherty, an infectious disease specialist at Baptist Health Lexington, said.
Baptist Health Lexington has seen an influx of COVID patients since July.
“By July 4, we had gotten down to three COVID patients in the hospital, no one in the ICU. And then Delta hit, and within six weeks, we had 110 patients in the hospital with COVID,” Dr. Dougherty said.
Stressing the system so much, they had to call in the National Guard for help. Dr. Dougherty said they had to make some decisions about who to treat.
“We had to shut off all elective surgery and only do emergency surgery,” he said.
The American Hospital Association said pockets of America are dealing with this right now.
“It really depends on the place. It depends on the extent to which hospitalizations are high,” Akin Demehin, the Director of Policy at American Hospital Association, said.
At the state of the pandemic, this is something many hospitals went through.
“We did see actually a lot of states make the decision to temporarily delay so-called elective procedures,” Demehin said, which impacted those in need, like Chase Best.
“I knew I was going to need a kidney. Actually, I found out when I was in 5th-grade space camp,” he explained.
Over time that need grew, and in 2016, Best was put on a list to receive a new kidney.
In 2019 is really when we found out that things were going to be a lot different from here going forward,” Best said. In January 2020, his condition got so bad, he was put on dialysis.
“I couldn't be myself because when you have two ports hanging out of you, and a bag of fluid hanging out of you all times of the day, it’s just awkward,” he said. So they started looking for a donor sooner. His wife planned an elaborate surprise the following month to reveal a matching kidney donor. Someone Chase knew. A man named Jake.
“They all got together and wanted to plan this elaborate unveiling of Chase’s kidney donor,” he said.
Then the pandemic hit.
“Sure enough, the Friday before my scheduled transplant, which was on a Tuesday, I got a call saying they were postponing it, and that just really deflated me,” he said.
Best’s surgery was considered elective. “Sheer anger and I wasn’t trying to downplay what was going on in the world, but I needed an organ,” he said.
A few weeks later, he received a call from the hospital. “Somebody passed away, and there's a kidney here; we need an answer,” he said. “I felt bad because Jake and I’s story wasn't going to play out, but also I felt bad because somebody had to pass away for me to get an organ to save my life.”
Ultimately giving Best a better quality of life, but not in the way he expected things to go. It’s something a lot of patients have experienced while waiting for delayed surgery.
Back at Baptist Health, things are starting to look a little more favorable for those in need.
“Over the last, just the last couple of days, we’ve been able to open the spigot on doing non-emergency surgeries,” Dr. Mark Dougherty said.
One of his patients -- Frederick -- was delayed for nearly two months. “I had knee surgery done last year in February, an infection started. Then Dr. Dougherty got involved, tried to get the infection under control,” Frederick explained.
Dr. Dougherty said just because surgeries aren’t life-threatening doesn’t mean the patients aren’t in pain. And for those still waiting for a procedure, Best said holding on to hope is crucial.
“You can't hold grudges against the medical industry. You can’t hold grudges against the politicians that make these decisions,” he said. “The world is working through this one step at a time.”