Coming End to Inpatient Surgeries in Mass. Won't Change as Much as the Last One

Outpatient procedures like mammograms, colonoscopies, endoscopies and pediatric visits will still continue

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On Friday, hospitals across Massachusetts will be curtailing inpatient elective procedures that can be safely postponed so they can free up those beds and staff for the sudden surge of COVID patients they've been seeing.

“I think that’s very unfortunate for the patients, many of which put off their surgeries during the first surge and still haven’t gotten them done,” said UMass Memorial Health Care President and CEO Dr. Eric Dickson.

But it will be very different from what happened in the spring, Dickson said.

“During the first surge in the springtime, we took the broad action of really shutting everything down, so mammography stopped occurring, endoscopy stopped occurring,” he said.

Gov. Charlie Baker announced expanded free COVID-19 testing on Monday -- sites will now be in 25 communities -- and hinted that more restrictions could be coming as the state continues to see a surge in cases of the virus.

This measure is much more focused, according to Dr. Katherine Gergen Barnett, vice chair of family medicine at Boston Medical Center.

“We’re now talking about curtailing elective procedures where you have to use an inpatient bed -- in other words, procedures that can be put off and have no impact on your health,” Gergen Barnett said.

She said that, this time around, outpatient procedures like mammograms, colonoscopies, endoscopies and pediatric visits will still continue.

“We know there are downstream consequences of not doing routine health care maintenance,” Gergen Barnett said.

She and Dickson agree that, while hospitals will take a financial hit, this decision by Gov. Charlie Baker makes sense for the short-term.

Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker announces that effective Friday, hospitals can curtail some elective procedures that would be safely postponed to free up staffing and beds for coronavirus patients. He also announced new free COVID-19 testing locations in the state.

“He’s doing this because it will free up probably 10-20%, depending on the health care system, of the bed capacity in the hospitals such that there’ll be more room to take care of COVID patients,” Dickson said.

The hope is that this is only for a few months, as more and more people get vaccinated and the need for hospital beds goes down, he said.

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