Despite Pandemic, Surgeries Back On At Some Wisconsin Hospitals

Procedures Postponed Due To COVID-19 Are Slowly Resuming At Health Care Facilities

A recovery room at a health clinic
A recovery room is seen during a tour at Whole Woman’s Health of San Antonio, in San Antonio, Texas. Eric Gay/AP Photo

Wisconsin’s hospitals and patients that held off on surgeries that weren’t urgent during the COVID-19 pandemic are slowly starting to prep for procedures again.

Madison resident Pete Witucki was diagnosed in January with an inguinal hernia that was to be repaired March 19. It wasn’t because of restrictions designed to limit patients and prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The surgery is back on now and scheduled for May 5. He will have waited six weeks.

“I’m not excited to have surgery, but I am excited to have this resolved,” said Witucki, who will be a patient at UW Health hospital on Madison’s far east side.

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The 38-year-old father of two has been unable to run because of the hernia.

“Running would have been a nice coping mechanism with the ‘Safer at Home’ and social distancing protocols,” he said. “Fortunately, I’ve been able to get on the bike a little and kayak now that the water has opened up.”

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“I feel pretty confident that I can have this surgery safely in terms of (the) coronavirus,” he said.

Madison’s three hospitals — UW Health, SSM Health and UnityPoint Health‒Meriter — announced Thursday they will slowly resume surgeries and other care that was postponed.

“After weeks of handling COVID-19 positive patients under new protocols, we have confirmed our ability to isolate and treat positive patients without putting others at risk,” according to a joint statement.

At the recommendation of federal health officials, care that wasn’t deemed essential was postponed in mid-March at hospitals across the state to create space for a possible surge of COVID-19 patients and preserve medical gear in short supply. So far, hospitals have had enough capacity despite initial concern the pandemic might overwhelm facilities. As of Thursday, there were 349 COVID-19 patients at 133 hospitals across the state.

Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee plans to resume elective surgeries on May 1. A spokesperson for Mayo Clinic in western Wisconsin said its unknown when they’ll start doing surgeries and procedures that aren’t urgent. The postponement won’t be indefinite.

“As we have remained closely connected to patients through telehealth services, some of the care that was able to be deferred at that time cannot be delayed indefinitely without impact to our patients’ health and wellness,” read a statement from Mayo Clinic.

Hospitals around the country have lost revenue as they stopped surgeries and other procedures.

Two Madison hospitals announced cost-cutting measures earlier this week. UnityPoint Health is furloughing some employees. UW Health is cutting pay for doctors and senior leaders. UW Health estimated losses to be $350 million-$400 million, beginning March 15 and lasting through June 30.

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