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Explained: The temporary ban on elective surgeries in some Texas counties amid COVID-19 pandemic

Explained: Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order on 'medically unnecessary surgeries'

Workers at St. Luke's Hospital in the Texas Medical Center in Houston wheel a hospital bed as teams prepare to handle more coronavirus patients June 30, 2020.
Workers at St. Luke's Hospital in the Texas Medical Center in Houston wheel a hospital bed as teams prepare to handle more coronavirus patients June 30, 2020. (KPRC)

SAN ANTONIO – Governor Greg Abbott signed two executive orders this week that paused surgeries and procedures deemed “not medically necessary” in several Texas counties that were seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases, including Bexar. There are some exceptions, though.

According to the executive orders, pausing non-medically-necessary surgeries was done in an effort to ensure hospital bed capacity and staffing are available for the rapidly gorwing number of COVID-19 patients. The mandate, in effect until Abbott rescinds it, specifically impacts medical surgeries and procedures in the following counties:

  • Bexar
  • Dallas
  • Harris
  • Travis
  • Cameron
  • Hidalgo
  • Nueces
  • Webb

Abbott’s order dictates that all hospitals in those counties, or licensed under Chapter 241 of the Texas Health and Safety Code, “shall postpone all surgeries and procedures that are not medically necessary to diagnose or correct a serious medical condition of, or to preserve the life of, a patient who without (the) timely performance of the surgery or procedure would be at risk for serious adverse medical consequences or death, as determined by the patient’s physician.”

However, the order states, that the prohibition on elective surgeries will only apply to any surgery or procedure, performed in “accordance with the commonly accepted standard of clinical practice would not deplete any hospital capacity needed to cope with the COVID-19 disaster.”

According to Kay Tucker, the director of communications for the Ambulatory Center Association, which represents facilities that provide “same day” surgeries and procedures, while no exact definition of an elective surgery exists, procedures can range from hip and knee replacements to treatments for some cancers.

“It’s probably easiest to talk about what it’s not,” Tucker said. “It’s not a surgery that is needed immediately to save a life, but it can be anything from ear tubes to pain injections.”

Elective surgeries are typically procedures that are booked by the guidance of a patient, typically in advance, because the patient is not in medical danger.

Essentially, elective surgeries can still be performed in the listed county’s hospitals, so long as the patient does not infringe upon needed bed capacity for a COVID-19 patient, as determined by the hospital. Additionally, any equipment and other materials needed for the surgery or procedure would have to be readily available to also serve COVID-19 patients.

Patti Tanner, director of communications for Tenet Health, the company in charge of Baptist Medical Center in San Antonio, told KSAT that the order essentially pauses any procedure or surgery that would interfere with COVID-19 patients.

“It does not limit emergent surgeries or those that are necessary to prevent harm to a patient if delayed. We are evaluating all scheduled procedures to ensure they comply with the governor’s executive order while providing the right care for our patients,” Tanner said.

Methodist Healthcare’s Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations Palmira Arellano provided the Texas Hospital Association’s frequently asked questions, which say Texas hospitals must reserve at least 15% of hospital capacity for COVID-19 patients.

According to Texas’ Department of State Health and Human Services, as of July 1, Harris County has reported 31,422 cases of COVID-19, Dallas County has reported 21,338 cases of COVID-19, Bexar County has reported 12,065 cases of COVID-19 and Travis County has reported 9,527 cases of COVID-19.

Related: Gov. Greg Abbott bans elective surgeries in four South Texas counties to preserve hospital capacity

Related: Coronavirus patients crowd some Texas ICUs as Gov. Greg Abbott touts “abundant” hospital capacity


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