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The latest news about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 in Montana.

Montana Hospitals Outline Plans To Resume Elective Surgeries

Hospital monitor.
Josh Burnham
Montana Public Radio

The Montana Hospital Association says it fully supports the Bullock administration’s phased-in approach to rebooting the state’s economy. The hospitals represented by the association are now outlining their plans to resume elective surgical procedures.

Gov. Steve Bullock consulted closely with Montana’s health care industry before announcing his intent to lift the state’s stay at home order, according to Montana Hospital Association President and CEO Rich Rasmussen.

"There has been a lot of counsel and a lot of collaboration going back and forth."

Late last month MHA urged Bullock to issue a mandatory statewide shelter-in-place declaration to protect lives and the economy. Rasmussen says the sacrifice paid huge dividends.

"We can easily ask ourselves the question, 'What does Montana and Hawaii have in common?' We’re both islands as it relates to COVID. If you look at us today, we’re an island among Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota. We have the highest response rate in terms of public health measures, and we have the lowest instances of the disease."

In late March the association also recommended hospitals cancel elective procedures to protect patients and health care workers in the event of a massive surge of COVID-19 cases. That surge never manifested. Now MHA supports measured resumption of those non-emergency procedures, such as colonoscopies and cataract surgeries.

"With resumption of the services, it now gives us the ability, now that we see we have the capacity and resources in place, to slowly phase this in. It’s not going to happen overnight."

Rasmussen says providers will occasionally pause to survey the medical landscape, ensuring community spread hasn’t taken place. If COVID-19 remains in check, they’ll take on additional elective cases. If there’s a problem, he says providers will tap the brakes.

He predicts hospitals will slowly ramp-up operations over the course of the next month.

That’ll also depend on availability of resources including personal protective equipment and testing supplies. Rasmussen says those testing kits still present a big supply chain pinch.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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