TAMPA, FL — TAMPA, Fla. -- During a recent press conference at Tampa General Hospital, a seemingly, relieved Governor DeSantis announced how he plans to reopen the Sunshine State.
“It will be slow, steady and methodical,” the governor told reporters.
Among the first industries that the state is looking at bringing back are elective surgeries, which can be pricey but profitable for health care facilities.
As Florida faced the harsh truth that a deluge of COVID-19 cases could exhaust its medical system, in March, Governor Ron DeSantis ordered all elective medical procedures to be postponed.
In an Executive Order signed on March 20, DeSantis put a stop to all “non-essential elective medical procedures.” The order would last until the end of the COVID-19 State of Emergency, which was declared two weeks earlier.
Now nearly five weeks later, doctors and health leaders around the state are eager to get patients back to the office for these non-urgent procedures.
Elective surgeries are defined as procedures that, if not done in the immediate future, do not pose a significant health risk to the patient. Common elective procedures include cataract and lens surgeries, orthopedic procedures and cosmetic procedures.
As of today, elective surgeries are set to resume within days after the governor’s order restricting them expires on May 8.
“It’s very exciting and good news,” said Dr. David Shapiro, an anesthesiologist and board member of Florida’s Society of Ambulatory Surgery Centers (FSASC).
“I think things will look a lot different to patients,” he said.
At his facilities in Tallahassee, Shapiro explains resuming elective surgeries amid the coronavirus pandemic will mean fully masked staff members, including members who work in the front office. Patients may also be asked to wear masks.
Shapiro said his team removed all waiting room chairs, refreshments and coffee to keep people from waiting inside.
Family members will be encouraged to wait for loved ones in their cars or at home until they get a phone call.
Shapiro said while new practices will vary by facility, all elective surgery patients can expect to answer more personal screening questions about their recent travel, symptoms and what they’ve been doing or who they’ve been caring for as the state remains shut down.
Patients can also, likely, expect longer wait times.
“We might start doing fewer cases to allow for maintenance of supplies and allow social distancing,” said Shapiro. “We may want to go to every other bed just like airlines are living middle seats empty.”
But while the healthcare industry is gearing up to welcome in patients, are patients ready to come back?
“Just because everything’s been lifted doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe,” said Adam Cohen of Boynton Beach.
His grandfather was scheduled for an elective heart valve replacement this summer, then the coronavirus hit.
Cohen now questions if his grandfather’s elective procedure is more urgent now and if medical centers will be safe environments for patients once elective surgeries resume.
“How safe do I feel having my 95-year-old grandfather going into, basically, ground zero for coronavirus these days? He’s my grandfather. I don’t want him going into a situation that’s even possibly unsafe for an elective procedure,” said Cohen.
Medical professionals say supplies and some medications are still in high demand and short supply, but they’re preparing now in the way only they know how.
“It’s going to be tough, and it’s going to require a lot of understanding and effort on everyone’s part,” said Shapiro.