Courtesy photo: Northwell Health

Suffolk’s hospitals have been given the green light to begin elective and ambulatory surgeries again, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced today. Hospitals in Westchester County have also been cleared for those procedures.

These services have always represented important revenue sources for hospitals, but they are more crucial than ever to hospitals left reeling from the COVID crisis, especially in hard-hit areas like Suffolk.

The challenges of responding to the novel coronavirus pandemic have created historic financial pressures for hospitals and health systems, according to the American Hospital Association.

Hospitals made extraordinary outlays of cash to purchase needed equipment and supplies to deal with the outbreak.

The Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit organization that focuses on national health issues, estimates the cost of treating a COVID patient to be more than $20,000, and over $88,000 for patients requiring ventilators.

At the same time, hospitals lost revenues from all non-emergency procedures. Some, like elective surgeries, were initially canceled at the recommendation of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. As the COVID surge began, the state mandated the cancellation of these procedures, in an effort to build hospital capacity to handle the surge in COVID patients.

Even now that the surge has receded, people are still postponing care and procedures — even staying away from emergency rooms.

Visits to the Peconic Bay Medical Center emergency department are significantly down, medical director Dr. Jean Cacciabaudo wrote in an op-ed.

“Hospitals and health systems face catastrophic financial challenges in light of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the American Hospital Association said in a report issued this month. The AHA estimates a total four-month financial impact of $202.6 billion in losses for America’s hospitals and health systems from March 1 to June 30, or an average of over $50 billion per month.

The AHA said hospitals can anticipate difficult financial times to continue, as the tens of millions of people left unemployed by the COVID crisis lose health insurance coverage — which can be expected to result in skyrocketing uncompensated care expenses for hospitals. Operating expenses will increase as well, with the crisis causing supply disruptions that have “exponentially” driven up prices for supplies since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the report.

Word that hospitals in Suffolk can resume elective surgeries ambulatory procedures is welcome news to area hospitals.

“While Northwell Health hospitals have been performing emergency surgeries throughout the past two months, the health system canceled all elective procedures beginning March 16,” said David Battinelli, MD, Northwell Health’s chief medical officer. Northwell operates Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead and three other hospitals in Suffolk, as well as one hospital in Westchester, as well as ambulatory facilities in both counties.

The health system has well over 10,000 urgent and elective surgeries were postponed because of epidemic, many of them in Suffolk and Westchester, Battinelli said.

“Beginning this week, Northwell facilities in Suffolk and Westchester will start scheduling elective procedures, but before any are performed, all patients will be required to undergo pre-surgical COVID-19 testing to ensure they are free of the virus,” Battinelli said.

A representative of Stony Brook Southampton expressed similar sentiment.

“We look forward to resuming care of those who have been patiently waiting for treatment and will be begin scheduling in guidance with the CDC, DOH and our colleagues at Stony Brook Medicine,“ said Barbara-Jo Howard, director of communications and marketing at the Southampton Hospital.

“The most-significant challenge for Northwell at this point is assuring the public that its hospitals and outpatient facilities are safe, and that those who have medical concerns get them addressed immediately,” Northwell’s Battinelli said.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.