WESTERLY — With the level of COVID-19 activity trailing off, at least for now, Westerly Hospital has resumed non-critical surgeries and medical procedures.
The move followed an announcement from Gov. Gina Raimondo allowing hospitals in the state to reopen. All hospitals had to first submit and receive approval for safety plans from the state Department of Health. Dr. Oliver Mayoga, Westerly Hospital's chief medical officer, said the reopening followed a one-week period of "a very light volume of COVID patients." The hospital, which is owned by the Yale New Haven Health system, also submitted a plan that was approved by system officials.
All but emergency surgeries had been put on hold as hospitals across the state and country geared up for waves of COVID-19 patients. As of late last week, Westerly Hospital had admitted and treated a total of 15 COVID-19 patients. Four of the patients died.
Extra safety measures have been implemented to guard against the threat of the virus, which can cause fatal respiratory problems. Patients who are scheduled for surgery or other procedures are tested for the virus a day or two before their procedures and are screened for fever and other symptoms upon their arrival to the hospital. Doctors and other staff are outfitted in masks and other personal protective equipment.
"It's absolutely safe to come to the hospital for your procedures, for your emergencies, and for your health care," Mayorga said last week.
Emergency department visits, which had been off by as much as 50%, are starting to pick up, a development Mayorga said can be attributed to renewed confidence of the public and the region's annual seasonal population growth.
The backlog of patients waiting for procedures that were put off because of the pandemic is being prioritized according to medical necessity.
"We're starting with those who need it most and if delayed would suffer health consequences," Mayorga said.
Along with surgeries, the hospital is resuming outpatient services and imaging procedures such as CAT scans and MRIs.
Mayorga said the number of COVID-19 patients the hospital treated was lower than some models predicted, especially when the virus first started to be seen in the state. A second wave of patients with the virus could come if social distancing guidelines are not followed, he said.
"We stand ready to handle any peak. We have plenty pf capacity and providers and are ready to do what we were placed here to do — provide health care and take care of our patients," Mayorga said.
Like hospitals throughout the country, Mayorga said having to put off surgeries and other community care procedures has hurt the hospital financially. Assistance from the federal government for hospitals will help and was needed, he said.
The hospital has maintained its work force throughout the crisis and did not implement layoffs or furloughs. The record number of unemployed and individuals' loss of health care insurance will be a challenge for hospitals in the future, Mayorga said.