When the US Surgeon General issued an advisory to cancel elective surgeries back in early March after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, hospitals everywhere began the necessary preparations to contain, treat and eventually flatten the curve of this dreadful disease. Surgical staff were quickly deployed in other areas of the hospital to assist with the surge of gravely ill patients; Anesthesiologists became vital to the COVID battle with their adept intubation skills; everyone accustomed to working in the OR engaged in the fight!
With the advent of resuming elective surgeries on the horizon, surgical staff are already worn down from their coordinated efforts as part of the hospital’s push to handle managing the impact of this pandemic. In the process, the backlog of elective surgeries grows exponentially by the day. A recent article published in the National Institute of Health illustrates the growing challenge that lies ahead, stating “the potential fallout from inconsiderate elective surgery cancellations may have a more dramatic and immeasurable impact on the health of our communities than the morbidity and mortality inflicted by the novel coronavirus disease.”
As hospitals stratify/prioritize surgeriesand prepare to build OR schedules, many are exploring extended daily hours and potential weekend schedules in an effort to make sure no patient awaiting surgery is overlooked or left behind. A potentially unanticipated factor in planning is the impact of extended workloads on surgical staff. According to the American College of Surgeon’s guidance on resuming elective surgery, staffing issues must be accounted for. “Consider levels of stress and fatigue in otherwise healthy workers. Workers returning to work following a COVID-19 infection may especially be at risk for physical and emotional exhaustion.” Asking surgical staff to immediately dive into surgeries over extended hours and weekends definitely presents a challenge every hospital needs to plan for.
Another COVID surge also looms with social distancing mandates being steadily lifted. In fact, the ACS warns of the impact on staff by recommending that facilities “ensure adequate health care worker staffing to accommodate a COVID-19 surge if a second wave occurs.” Resuming elective surgeries as soon as possible is vital; making sure surgical staff have the bandwidth for the coming workload is a necessary pillar of planning to prevent burnout and ensure patient safety.
Together, we can lift each other up!
-Marcus Perez, EVP