HUDSON — Columbia Memorial Health received permission from the state on Wednesday to resume elective medical procedures, ending a months-long state-mandated standstill.
The go-ahead is a clear indication from the state that CMH can provide a safe environment for patients amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said CMH spokesman William Van Slyke on Thursday.
Columbia and Greene counties were initially left off the list of counties allowed to resume elective surgeries in late April, when 35 of the state’s 62 counties got the green light to resume procedures.
CMH officials were prompted to apply for the Department of Health waiver after the Twin Counties were excluded from that initial group of 35 counties, Van Slyke said.
CMH and Albany Medical Center each got the go-ahead from the Department of Health on Wednesday night, as did several other area hospitals including Glens Falls Hospital and St. Mary’s Hospital in Amsterdam. Columbia Memorial Health is an affiliate of Albany Medical Center.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo previously announced the state would allow elective surgeries to resume in counties and hospitals without significant risk of a COVID-19 surge.
CMH officials are creating a plan to gradually resume elective procedures, such as colonoscopies, hernia repairs and orthopedic surgeries.
“Increasingly in the region, the concern is shifting from COVID-19 to the thousands of people who require consistent care for chronic illnesses,” Van Slyke said. “We can’t do everything in a telehealth setting.”
For many patients managing painful symptoms, the resumption of elective medical procedures will come as a welcome development, said Van Slyke, who noted that the term “elective” encompasses a variety of conditions.
Albany Medical Center will begin carrying out elective surgeries at its South Clinical campus Monday. Patients will be tested for COVID-19 and must test negative for the procedure to go forward, Dr. Fred Venditti, general director of Albany Medical Center, said Thursday.
More than 6,000 backlogged patients are awaiting treatment, said Dr. Dennis McKenna, president of Albany Medical Center.
Albany Medical Center is starting with small surgeries that will take 60 minutes or less and with low risk of blood loss. The hospital will ramp up its elective surgery schedule over the coming weeks, Venditti said.
“We feel this is going to have no impact on our ability to treat COVID-19 patients,” Venditti said.
As the pandemic intensified, hospitals around the region shut down elective surgeries, redistributed staff and converted operating rooms into COVID-19 treatment centers.
To meet the state goal of increasing hospital capacity by 50%, CMH rented extra hospital beds and converted operating waiting rooms into COVID-19 care units, CMH Chief Medical Officer Dr. Clifford Belden said at a late-March press briefing in Albany.
Like many hospitals nationwide, CMH has seen a sharp decline in patients seeking routine treatments over the course of the pandemic.
“This is a time when people are fearful to do anything, whether it is going to the supermarket or the doctor’s office,” Van Slyke said.
CMH furloughed 125 staff members April 21. The hospital is evaluating how and when it may call back those employees, Van Slyke said.
Cuomo acknowledged that the ban on elective surgeries has put a strain on hospitals around the state.
“When you cancel elective surgeries, hospitals feel a financial pinch because that’s where they make their money,” the governor said April 29 during his daily COVID-19 briefing in the Red Room at the state Capitol.