Doctors report cancer patients’ and other surgeries canceled amid COVID-19 hospitalization surge

Coronavirus Hospitalizations

AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) — One Austin surgeon told KXAN they called three of their cancer patients to cancel their surgeries.

With rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, this surgeon said others are being moved from the operating room to help out.

A handful of other Austin doctors have also described a worsening situation on social media. Emergency Room Dr. Natasha Kathuria posted about hospitals diverting people from surgeries to other medical units, putting those procedures on hold. Other doctors shared social media posts saying they’d received similar information.

Acension Seton, St. David’s HealthCare and Baylor Scott & White all said they are delaying elective surgeries. None of them specified the types of surgeries that include but they all said some surgeries are still taking place based on a number of factors. For example, St. David’s said it considers “the urgency of the procedure, the clinical judgement of our physicians, as well as the current circumstances in our facilities, including available physical capacity and available staffing.”

Baylor Scott & White did say it “will still perform urgent and emergent procedures” and that “Most cases involving patients who have cancer or those needing cardiovascular procedures, for example, will move forward.”

“As we have done throughout the pandemic with our preparedness response, we are working to balance our readiness to care for patients with COVID-19 while continuing to make sure the many other patients who depend on our hospitals receive needed and timely care,” St. David’s HealthCare wrote.

Baylor Scott & White noted many of the patients it’s treating for COVID-19 are not vaccinated and reminded people that getting vaccinated and wearing a mask “are the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones.” It also noted the delta variant is “the most dangerous strain we have seen yet” and pointed to it as the reason for the rapid increase in people becoming seriously sick and needing to go to the hospital.

Earlier this week, KXAN reported on a family who says their 22-month-old daughter who needed to go to intensive care was turned away from an Austin-area hospital, because there wasn’t space there. She filled up one of the last two beds at another hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit later that day.

Geoffre Becker said he was supposed to have an urgent surgery on Thursday morning but remains in pain with no idea when it’ll be rescheduled.

“I don’t know what the future holds,” Becker said.” I’m losing more and more control of my left leg… me, my friends, my family, my neighbors, we’ve basically done the heavy lifting for the last year and a half to stop the spread of COVID. The people who are sick now are basically the ones who have been flipping the middle finger to the rest of us.”

Becker said he exploded a disk in his back. Now some of the fragments are poking the nerves in his spine, causing him to lose function in one of his legs.

In June 2020, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order postponing elective surgeries to help with hospital capacity. He has not taken that step this year but did say in early August he had sent a letter to the Texas Hospital Association asking hospitals to voluntarily postpone medical procedures. At the time, the THA said many hospitals in the state had “already idled non-essential service.”

Travis County Medical Association President Nancy Foster commended hospitals, saying staff are doing the best they can. Foster said the measures being taken are necessary.

“I’ve been in practice in Austin since 1987, and this is the busiest that I have ever seen it personally,” Foster said. “If this doesn’t stop, we will be in trouble.”

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