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Despite resistance, Northam extends ban on nonessential surgeries

ROANOKE — Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday extended the state’s ban on nonessential surgeries and procedures until May 1.

The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association had asked the governor to allow the ban on nonessential surgeries and procedures to expire on Friday.

CEO Sean Connaughton wrote in a letter to Northam that the hospitals have nearly 6,000 open beds and 2,200 unused ventilators.

“Only 21% of the 2,865 ventilators available are in use by both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients. Critically, these numbers have remained consistent since the end of March,” he wrote. “In the meantime, it is estimated that 60,000 Virginians have had their non-urgent inpatient and outpatient medical procedures canceled over the past month and 15,000 procedures will be canceled every week going forward.”

Hospitals systems across Virginia and the nation have said they furloughed employees who worked in outpatient clinics, surgical suites and other services that were halted both to conserve masks, gowns and gloves that were in short supply, and to stop transmission of the virus.

The health systems have also said they have taken huge financial hits by spending more to build capacity for COVID-19 and by forgoing revenue from nonessential services.

Northam said in a news release that the ban on elective surgeries will continue while he and the state health commissioner evaluate how to ease restrictions safely and consider the availability of personal protective equipment.

The University of Virginia Medical Center began delaying elective surgeries in mid-March.

In a recent Board of Visitors meeting, President Jim Ryan told board members that UVa’s conservation of PPE and preparation of beds and contingency housing made the hospital feel confident about its ability to handle a crisis, according to minutes, but now “the medical center is largely empty and unable to provide the normal care which is detrimental financially.”

Northam also decided to keep the Department of Motor Vehicles offices closed to the public until May 11. And he directed the state police to continue suspending enforcement of motor vehicle inspections until July 31. Local law enforcement can still issue citations for expired inspections.

Virginians are under a stay-at-home order until mid-June, and nonessential businesses are to remain closed until May 8.


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