In the wake of Minnesota Governor Tim Walz’s ban on elective procedures, doctors have been forced to delay life changing operations for sick children.
Normally, surgeries to fix partially obstructed arteries, remove some kinds of cancerous tumors or excise an infected gallbladder occur on a daily basis in Minnesota’s prestigious hospitals like the Mayo Clinic. However, since Walz banned so-called non essential procedures amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors have been forced to use nonsurgical techniques in lieu of otherwise straightforward operations, says the Star Tribune (ST). This has put some patients at risk of lifelong injury.
Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul works with kids suffering from complex health problems. This one hospital alone has been forced to cancel over 10,000 operations as Walz seeks to trade routine medical care for increased coronavirus testing capacity.
Dr. Tenner Guillaume who works at Gillette told the ST that while some non essential surgeries can be safely delayed, postponing other procedures may have lifelong health impacts on the children under his care.
He also says that the incredible backlog created by Walz’s order will pose a significant logistical problem whenever hospitals are allowed to return to business as usual.
“With the backlog of cases now, we’re going to have to develop new systems to try to figure out how do we get this all done for everyone,” he told the ST. “How do you begin to prioritize one case over another?”
One case that needs to be rescheduled is that of 4-year-old Claire Lindell who was supposed to have a spinal deformity fixed at Gillette on March 30. This operation would have made it easier for her to breathe. Unfortunately, as the Lindells were on their way to Claire’s final pre-surgery doctor’s appointment, they were told that the operation had been delayed indefinitely.
“There are a lot of plans that were laid out over the course of a five-six month period and just — poof! — they all went away,” Claire’s father, A.J. told the ST.
Dr. Tim Sielaff is the chief medical officer at Allina Health, a Minnesota company that operates 11 hospitals. He says that what Walz and compliant hospitals “have been trying to do is balance the risk of exposure, or the risk of having an operation and harboring COVID, vs. the benefits of the operation,” per the ST.
While Walz’s order is designed to minimize the spread of coronavirus in hospitals and does stipulate that delays should not confer “undue risk to the current or future health of a patient,” concerns exist that this is not happening.
“Nothing in medicine we do has zero risk,” notes Dr. Robert McWilliams of Mayo Clinic. This includes the governor’s sweeping cancelation order.