Medical restrictions eased after hospital group urges action

By Associated Press

SEATTLE — Gov. Jay Inslee eased restrictions on elective medical procedures after a hospital industry group said patients in Washington state were being hurt by them.

The Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA), saying facilities have plenty of capacity amid a decline in COVID-19 patients, urged Inslee to let elective procedures resume.

On Wednesday, Inslee announced new guidance that gives hospitals and health care providers more leeway to resume some non-urgent medical procedures.

WSHA sent a letter to Inslee on April 10 asking him to ease the restrictions that were put in place over worries COVID-19 patients would overwhelm the system.

The Seattle Times reported that Cassie Sauer, the chief executive officer of the WSHA, said the organization renewed its request in a Tuesday phone call with Inslee.

Sauer said many patients are suffering “while waiting to get the care they need.”

According to association surveys, the statewide average for hospital capacity is at 70 percent.

Sauer said she was concerned about the toll on patients from delayed cancer screenings and a wide range of other procedures, as well as the financial hit on hospitals from reduced revenues.

“We are way behind other states that already have made this move in recognition that there are many more health needs than COVID,” Sauer said.

“We absolutely want to restart the most pressing non-urgent procedures.”

States that have relaxed hospital elective procedure restrictions include Oregon, where Gov. Kate Brown last week lifted an order delaying non-urgent medical procedures.

Inslee had said on Monday that his administration was working on a “hospital-specific” plan that would allow some elective surgeries to move forward if hospitals could demonstrate they had enough personal protective equipment.

Sauer said that she is hopeful, after the Tuesday conversation with the governor, that there will be some action in loosening hospital restrictions in the next few days.

“We have been collaborating with WSHA and labor unions on interpretive guidelines to help hospitals understand the intent and scope of the governor’s original order,” Tara Lee, a spokeswoman for the governor, said Tuesday.

“We expect to have this done very soon, perhaps within a day.”

The state Department of Health on Tuesday reported 21 additional deaths from the virus, bringing the total number of deaths in the state to at least 786.

The agency also reported 156 more people had tested positive, increasing the number of confirmed cases to more than 13,840.

The coronavirus causes only mild symptoms in many, but it can cause serious illness or death for some, particularly older adults and those with certain health conditions.

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