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New Hampshire Hospitals Resume Surgeries, Elective Procedures Delayed By Pandemic

Allison Quantz | NHPR

Hospitals in New Hampshire reopened their doors for a limited range of elective and other time-sensitive procedures on Monday, allowing patients to access care delayed by the global pandemic. 

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Gov. Chris Sununu issued an executive order on Friday clearing the way for health care facilities to begin accepting non-emergency patients, provided they maintain adequate levels of personal protective equipment and the capacity to handle a possible surge in COVID-19 patients.

Hospitals nationwide shut down most non-emergency procedures in mid-March to preserve PPE, as well as create additional space for coronavirus patients. That surge hasn’t yet materialized in New Hampshire. As of Sunday, there were 110 patients hospitalized statewide due to COVID-19.

The cancellations of elective procedures decimated hospital revenues - the New Hampshire Hospital Association put the losses at $200 million per month. 

On Monday, hospitals rapidly reopened their surgical wings, though not to every patient.

“At least initially, we are focusing on the lower risk procedures,” said Nick Vetrano, director of business development and physician relations at Portsmouth Regional Hospital. 

Vetrano said the hospital is resuming joint replacement and other orthopedic surgeries, open heart procedures, neurological and bariatric surgeries, as well as other general procedures. The facility is continuing to delay most procedures that would lead to prolonged postoperative intubation, as that is more likely to spread airborne particles from the lungs, putting health workers at greater risk of contracting COVID-19.

Portsmouth Regional Hospital is expected to perform about half the number of surgeries it would have conducted before the pandemic. Scans and radiology procedures will also resume, although also in a reduced capacity.

“Imaging to diagnose, or if there is concern of a cancer, that’s much more likely to get scheduled than something that was maybe a chronic pain and could wait for some additional time,” said Vetrano.

All staff entering Portsmouth Regional Hospital will be screened and have their temperature taken. Patients, who will enter through a different access point, will also be screened for any symptoms.

The cancellation of elective and other scheduled procedures forced many hospitals to furlough or lay off staff in staggering numbers. 

Catholic Medical Center in Manchester temporarily furloughed or reduced hours for more than 1,300 employees. In a statement, the hospital said it is confident it has both the protective gear and bed space to resume elective procedures.

“For the last seven weeks, hospitals in New Hampshire have been understandably focused on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Joseph Pepe, Catholic Medical Center’s president. 

“It is time for us now to focus on co-existing with COVID-19 in our community and being able to safely treat the patients who’ve delayed care or gone untreated.”

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University. He can be reached at
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