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Texas Medical Center hospitals deferring some elective procedures

Stressed by an unrelenting surge of COVID-19 patients, Texas Medical Center hospitals have begun or are about to start deferring certain elective procedures, the same managed reduction plan deployed in the summer.

Hospital leaders said their systems will continue some elective procedures but suspend those non-emergency cases whose demands on staff and space detract from resources better used to treat COVID-19 patients. The reduction is not the wholesale delay of elective procedures that all Texas hospitals invoked in the spring.

“This may well be among the most challenging few weeks we’ve experienced during this pandemic,” Dr. Marc Boom, chief executive officer of Houston Methodist, emailed employees Monday. “Together, we will get through this, but it will be difficult.”

In the email, Boom notified employees that Methodist has started considering what elective procedures or surgeries “might need to be safely delayed.” At Memorial Hermann, Dr. James McCarthy, chief physician executive, said that system is a few days away from invoking the same practice. And Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, CEO of Harris Health System, said it began delaying such procedures just before Christmas.

The delays come as TMC COVID-19 hospitalizations approach summer-like levels. In his email, Boom noted that Monday’s number was just short of 700, which he wrote makes it likely Methodist will surpass the hospital’s July peak numbers in a matter of days. Dr. James McCarthy, chief physician executive at Memorial Hemann, noted that its current number of COVID-19 patients has increased three-fold over the last month.

The Houston area is now averaging more than 3,300 new cases a day, noted William McKeon, CEO of the Texas Medical Center, compared to roughly 2,330 such cases at the pandemic’s height in July. He said it’s clear the holidays weren’t good for Houston.

“January and February are shaping up to be our darkest days, given these record numbers,” said McKeon. “Hospitals lag behind in feeling the effects of increases in cases so expect the numbers to keep going in the wrong direction before things get better.”