Gov. Walz Allows Elective Surgeries Statewide; Essentia, St. Luke’s Say They’re Ready

The Governor signed an executive order Tuesday allowing elective surgeries and procedures, reversing an order from March.

DULUTH, Minn.- An executive order from Governor Tim Walz gave the green light for healthcare providers to resume elective surgeries and procedures on May 11th. A move officials at Essentia Health and St. Luke’s Hospitals in Duluth said they are ready for.

Health systems statewide have lost about $1 billion a month since procedures and surgeries were banned in March, according to experts.

In that time, surgeries that were once less essential have become more urgent.

“We know that many of the procedures and surgeries that six weeks ago were elective, are really not elective anymore. They need to be done,” Dr. Van Deelen, Chief Medical Officer at St. Luke’s said.

As procedures begin resuming, surgeons at both facilities will be developing lists prioritizing cases. “The focus is initially going to be on ambulatory cases and cases that don’t require a lot of PPE,” said Dr. Jon Pryor, President of Essentia’s East Market.

“And after we get those cases going we’ll start prioritizing ones that may be a little bit more time-sensitive and a little bit more involved,” he said. “Cases where the risk of not doing it is greater than the risk of getting COVID.”

It was with that effort in mind, Gov. Walz said, that the order was signed.

“Not putting off things that need to be treated because we’re going to come out of this thing with worse problems health-wise that could have been prevented,” the Governor said in a press conference Tuesday.

In terms of scheduling, patients going to St. Luke’s for surgery or procedure should keep in contact with their surgeon.

“If I was a patient who had been scheduled and been waiting, I would expect to get a call this week,” said Dr. Van Deelen. “If I don’t hear, I would call my surgeon’s office to ask.”

According to Dr. Van Deelen, St. Luke’s is now well-prepared to accept the steady influx of patients again. “We think we’re far safer now than we were even a couple weeks ago.”

Meanwhile top doctors at Essentia believe patients won’t be at risk in their facilities.

“We have been so careful about this, it’s probably a lot safer here than virtually any place else you can be right now,” said Dr. Pryor.

However, he said, they will still proceed with caution. “This includes making sure that everyone has a mask, patients and employees, before they come into our institution.”

“When it comes to surgery we’re going to be testing patients three days beforehand and having them go into quarantine so we know that they don’t have COVID when they come here,” Dr. Pryor said.

Those precautions include being prepared to dial back should a surge come to the area. “We’ll keep a close eye on the COVID-19 cases at the same time with the idea that if we need to, we an always ratchet back,” said Dr. Van Deelen.

With hundreds of layoffs and furloughs between both hospitals, they are anxious to get many of their employees back to work–carefully.

“They’re already in our books, I wouldn’t say rehire but we’re going to bring them back into the workforce,” Dr. Pyror said. “We’re going to do it in a very careful and methodical fashion. We’re going to start slow in these, getting these patients back, we don’t want to make any mistakes.”

That level of discretion shows that statewide, the boots on the ground may be hesitant.

“Our nurses and our frontline healthcare personnel are nervous about this decision,” said Gov. Walz. “They are concerned that we do not over-move towards this, depleting them, or putting them on the frontline now in some positions where they don’t feel like they have the proper protective care.”

But all in all, health leaders in this area agree with the Governor that this is a step in the right direction.

“We believe that they’re prepared to do it,” Walz said.

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