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Overburdened by COVID-19, Tucson Medical Center cancels surgeries

TMC turning away patients daily as COVID cases are 'exceeding available resources'

Elective surgeries at Tucson Medical Center will be pushed off until at least January 4, as the hospital is forced to turn away patients with serious illnesses and "the number of COVID patients needing care is exceeding available resources on a daily basis."

Arizona reached new records for the number of hospitalized patients this week, and Pima County again hit record numbers of new infected cases.

TMC administrators informed doctors of the delay on Sunday morning, in an internal letter obtained by TucsonSentinel.com.

In what was described as an initial move, TMC "is cancelling all elective surgeries beginning Monday... to address the constrained nursing, clinical and medical staff," hospital COO Mimi Coomler and Dr. Amy Beiter, TMC's chief medical officer, wrote to staffers.

"We have reached the point in the pandemic where the number of COVID patients needing care is exceeding available resources on a daily basis," the two told TMC physicians.

In the past week, TMC has "turned away 80 direct admissions" — patients being transferred from other medical facilities, nursing homes or being sent by an outside doctor straight to the hospital for admission without going through triage in the emergency room.

TMC has already "canceled a number of elective surgeries with particular attention to those requiring ICU and stepdown beds," they said.

The number of patients in the hospital has prompted TMC to increase the patient loads of each nurse, and the facility has been holding an average of 15 patients daily in the emergency room that would otherwise be admitted to the hospital, due to crowding, the letter said.

Recent weeks have seen a severe increase in the number of reported cases and deaths from COVID-19 in Arizona.

There were more than 5,300 new COVID-19 infections reported just on Sunday morning in Arizona, with 34 additional deaths from the disease. Pima County saw 1,070 new reported infections, with 4 new deaths added to the overall count. Across the state, there have been more than 453,000 reported cases, with 7,971 deaths caused by coronavirus. Pima County has had more than 59,000 cases, with 905 deaths thus far.

"We anticipate providing more information about the adjustment of elective surgery restrictions in the coming week(s)," they said.

TMC will work with doctors to contact patients who have scheduled surgeries.

"We recognize that many patients have met their insurance deductible and canceling their surgery is a financial concern," Coomler and Beiter said. "Our CFO, Steve Bush, is reaching out to insurance companies to request a waiver or adjustment for those patients affected."

From TMC:

A non-essential or elective surgery means a surgery that can be delayed without undue risk to the current or future health of a patient.  A licensed medical professional shall use their best medical judgment in determining whether a surgery is non-essential or elective.  In making that decision, the medical professional shall consider the health and age of the patient, especially given the risk of concurrent CPVDI-19 infection during recovery and the urgency of the surgery. A surgery should not be deemed non-essential or elective if it would threaten the patient’s life, threaten permanent dysfunction or impairment of any body part, risk metastasis or progression of staging, or require the patient to remain hospitalize if the surgery was delayed.

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