Cleveland Clinic, UH and MetroHealth are halting non-urgent surgeries due to COVID spike

Cleveland Clinic (pictured here), University Hospitals and MetroHealth will all begin rescheduling non-urgent procedures in order to free up bed space due to a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations. The hospital systems released a joint statement Friday that states they are reaching capacity at certain locations. [Cleveland Clinic]
Cleveland Clinic (pictured here), University Hospitals and MetroHealth will all begin rescheduling non-urgent procedures in order to free up bed space due to a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations. The hospital systems released a joint statement Friday that states they are reaching capacity at certain locations. [Cleveland Clinic]
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Updated: 9:04 a.m., Friday, Dec. 17, 2021

Cleveland Clinic is extending its pause on non-urgent surgeries for an additional two weeks due to the continued influx of COVID-19 patients, hospital officials said Friday.

Non-essential surgeries requiring a hospital bed at the Clinic's Ohio hospitals will be postponed from Monday, Dec. 20, through Friday, Dec. 31, 2021, according to a news release.

Non-urgent surgeries had previously been paused through Dec. 17 at all of its Ohio locations except Lutheran Hospital to free up bed space due to a rapid increase in COVID-19 patients.

“Essential and urgent surgeries, as well as heart, cancer, pediatric and transplantation surgeries, and outpatient surgeries not requiring a hospital bed will continue to be scheduled during this time period,” the release states. 

University Hospitals and MetroHealth postponed non-urgent surgeries earlier this month, officials said.

The hospitals have also made changes to their visitation policies to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

All three hospitals are experiencing a sharp influx of COVID-19 patients, according to a joint statement issued by the hospital systems.

The changes will free up resources for patients experiencing an emergency or life-threatening illness and help the hospitals manage staffing demands, said Dr. Robert Wyllie, chief of medical operations at Cleveland Clinic. 

“We would like the public to know that the hospitals are really in a tight situation and we need their help,” Wyllie said. “What can they do? Well, they can mask up if it’s appropriate and they can get vaccinated.” 

Some hospital locations are reaching nearly full capacity due to an influx of COVID-19 patients, he said. At Cleveland Clinic, just 5 to 6 percent of intensive care unit beds are open, he added. 

Hospital officials are trying to free up beds and manage staffing shortages – especially as they are taking in patients from other overwhelmed hospitals in Northeast Ohio, Wyllie said. 

“A lot of patients are coming into our emergency departments that need to be hospitalized for COVID and non-COVID conditions, and that’s why we’re not adding on further elective surgeries so we can handle those types of patients," Wyllie said.

Non-urgent procedures will be adjusted at certain locations, according to the statement. Surgeries will be postponed on a case-by-case basis likely through the end of 2021, officials said. 

At Cleveland Clinic, officials will temporarily halt the scheduling of non-urgent inpatient surgeries that require a hospital bed in all Ohio locations, with the exception of Euclid and Lutheran Hospitals, starting Monday, Dec. 6 through Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, according to the release. Essential and urgent surgeries, as well as heart, cancer, pediatric and transplantation surgeries, and outpatient surgeries not requiring a hospital bed will continue to be scheduled during this time period, officials said.  

University Hospitals is rescheduling certain non-urgent surgeries at UH Cleveland Medical Center that require an inpatient stay for a short duration of time and will continue to perform urgent surgeries and outpatient surgeries and procedures that do not involve an overnight stay, according to the statement. UH's community hospitals will continue to perform all surgeries, the release states. 

At MetroHealth’s main campus, non-time-sensitive surgeries that were scheduled for today or next week are being rescheduled, according to hospital spokesperson Mike Tobin. Surgeries at other MetroHealth locations are not being impacted at this time, he said. Additionally, MetroHealth added 40 new beds to keep up with the increase in COVID-19 patients, which make up 15 percent of the hospital’s census, officials said. 

Emergency and essential surgeries will still be performed, as well as non-essential procedures that do not require a hospital stay, the release states. 

COVID-19 hospitalizations are expected to reach their peak over the next two weeks, Wyllie said, but Ohio’s increasing case numbers show the hospitalizations will likely continue surging for some time. 

“That’s gone from 5,000 or 5,500 new cases per day to over 9,000 new cases per day each of the last couple of days. So if that trend continues, that’s going to give us some more challenges a couple weeks from now,” he said. “I think we’re in a wait-and-see time right now. We’ll have to wait and see what happens over the next 4 or 5 days in terms of how many new cases per day.”

Experts are also watching closely to see if the highly contagious omicron variant will show up in the area soon and further increase cases, Wyllie added. The variant has not yet been detected in Ohio. 

More than 90 percent of COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit are unvaccinated, and the majority of vaccinated patients who are hospitalized have underlying health conditions, Wyllie added. 

Northeast Ohio is experiencing the largest upticks in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the state, according to health officials.  

Currently, there are 905 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Region 2, an area designated by the Ohio Department of Health that includes Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake and Lorain counties. In Region 5, which includes Summit, Stark and 16 other counties in the north central region, 970 were hospitalized on Friday. 

Hospitalizations in Northeast Ohio reached their peak at slightly more than 1,000 patients in Dec. 2020, and the current numbers are approaching those levels, Wyllie said. However, he does not think this winter will be as deadly as last year’s surge. 

“I don’t think it’s going to get quite as high, and that’s because of the number of people vaccinated in Ohio,” Wyllie said. Millions have also already received their booster shot, he added. 

The decision to postpone surgeries comes just one day after both Cleveland Clinic and UH suspended their employee COVID-19 vaccination mandates, citing a federal injunction issued earlier this week that blocked the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services from enforcing the mandate. 

MetroHealth issued a staff vaccination mandate back in October, and officials said 99 percent of employees complied. 

Read the full statement below:

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge healthcare providers globally and nationally, including Cleveland Clinic, The MetroHealth System and University Hospitals, resulting in yet another surge in the number of COVID-19 patients. As we continue to navigate the pandemic and adjust to the changing healthcare needs of our patients, our health systems are seeing unprecedented demand for inpatient care across our facilities. This has led to our hospitals reaching nearly full capacity at many locations. Our organizations are experiencing a significant increase in unvaccinated patients being hospitalized because of COVID-19.

·         More than 90% of patients with COVID-19 in the ICU are non-vaccinated. This means that vaccination is protecting people from severe illness. The majority of vaccinated patients who are hospitalized have underlying health conditions.

·         We are urging everyone eligible to please get vaccinated.

·         University Hospitals is experiencing record high census of hospitalized COVID-19 positive patients.

·         Cleveland Clinic hospitals are experiencing a significant increase in patients hospitalized due to COVID-19.

·         The MetroHealth System is experiencing an increase in patients hospitalized due to COVID-19.

We are committed to serving the urgent needs of our patients and community. Therefore, in the interest of maintaining high levels of quality and safety, Cleveland Clinic, The MetroHealth System and University Hospitals are voluntarily making adjustments to the scheduling of non-urgent surgeries at certain locations. Patient and caregiver safety remain our highest priority. This action frees resources for patients with immediate and life-threatening needs and manages the demands on frontline caregivers, who have served with distinction throughout the pandemic.

We remain available to provide care to patients experiencing an emergency, life-threatening illness or prescribed screening or testing as well as providing outpatient surgeries that do not require a hospital bed.

Cleveland Clinic 

Cleveland Clinic will temporarily halt the scheduling of additional non-urgent inpatient surgeries requiring a hospital bed in our Ohio locations, with the exception of Euclid and Lutheran Hospitals, beginning Monday, Dec. 6, 2021 through Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. Essential and urgent surgeries, as well as heart, cancer, pediatric and transplantation surgeries, and outpatient surgeries not requiring a hospital bed will continue to be scheduled during this time period. We will continue to evaluate our scheduled surgical patients as the pandemic continues. 

The MetroHealth System

In response to high demand for inpatient care – involving both COVID and non-COVID cases – we have begun postponing some elective surgeries to free up space in our hospitals. We are also exercising other options, such as encouraging more use of our Hospital in the Home program, to meet the latest patient surge.

University Hospitals

University Hospitals is currently rescheduling certain non-urgent surgeries at UH Cleveland Medical Center that require an inpatient stay for a short duration of time. At this time, UH Cleveland Medical Center continues to perform urgent surgeries and outpatient surgeries and procedures that do not involve an overnight stay. University Hospitals continues to perform all types of surgeries and procedures at its community hospitals, although the situation is fluid and subject to change. University Hospitals’ physicians are seeing patients as they always have, and UH labs and testing centers are open.

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