While emergency medical procedures have continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, non-emergency or "elective" surgeries and medical procedures have been put on hold.
But starting Monday (May 11), the state of Illinois allows health care providers to resume those procedures.
Providers in east-central Illinois say they’re taking precautions to protect patients as they gear up to reschedule hundreds of canceled visits.
State guidelines call on health care providers to ensure that patients coming in have tested negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of the procedure, says Dr. William Pierce, chief medical officer for Christie Clinic.
After the COVID-19 test is administered, patients will be asked to quarantine until the time of their procedure and will be checked for symptoms upon their arrival, Pierce says.
“We have put in safeguards,” Pierce says. “We monitor our staff for any kind of symptoms, test (them) if needed. All our folks are wearing masks preventively. Common areas are cleaned consistently.”
Pierce says employees and patients are instructed to wear a mask and practice social distancing while in the waiting room.
In between visits, patient rooms undergo deep cleaning, he says. Christie is spacing out visits more than usual to ensure the extra precautions can be implemented.
Representatives from Carle and OSF Healthcare say patient safety is top priority and that they’ll be following state and CDC guidelines aimed at keeping patients safe as they return for elective procedures.
Dr. Blair Rowitz, Carle’s medical director for surgical services and associate chief medical officer, says Carle is prioritizing canceled procedures based on urgency and the degree of symptoms.
OSF, Carle and Christie all say they’ve experienced financial losses due to the cancellation of non-emergency medical procedures since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Michael Cruz, chief operating officer for OSF Healthcare (which operates in dozens of Illinois counties including Champaign) estimates OSF has furloughed 2,000 to 3,000 of their roughly 26,000 employees since the start of the pandemic.
“The revenue has been definitely impacted for the entire system, all our operating units and our medical groups and clinics, and it’s not a small number,” Cruz says.
Pierce says business at Christie Clinic is down 45 to 50%, which has caused 264 people to be furloughed.
Carle spokeswoman Stafanie McLeese said in an email that Carle has been hurt financially as well.
“The actual impact won’t be known until later in the year,” she said. “We’re focused on providing care to all those who need.”
McLeese said Carle employees have not been furloughed, but the postponement of surgeries and procedures caused some employees to be moved to other Carle sites or to work from home.
In some instances, employees “were able to tap a sick-time benefit to ensure they were paid throughout the pause on procedures,” McLeese said.
Representatives from OSF, Carle and Christie say the facilities will continue to use telehealth to deliver care that does not require an in-person visit.
Rowitz says he encourages patients to discuss any concerns they may have about coming in for non-emergency care with their providers.
“There’s a risk that delaying care could actually lead to more harm and more risk than coming to our facilities for your care,” Rowitz says.
“If patients have any concerns, please call your providers, talk to them, and they can give you an idea about whether it’s safer for you to come in and be checked or to stay away.”